OVERHEARD: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker talking at high volume in the central lounge of the Congress Center about his future political career, including a possible White House bid.
OVERNIGHT: Jacinda Ardern stunned New Zealanders and her global fan base by announcing she will step down as prime minister by Feb. 7, ahead of a national election in October. Among her many achievements, Ardern was a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.
TREAT FOR YOUR EARS: We have not one, but two episodes of our Davos Confidential podcast landing today. Listen to the first one, featuring director Oliver Stone, here, and the rest here.
MUTINY ON THE MOUNTAIN
STAFF DEMAND KLAUS BE SCHWABBED OUT:POLITICO’s tell-all about Klaus Schwab’s never ending reign at the helm of the World Economic Forum continues to make waves — including a brewing mutiny among staff. The Guardian reports on online chats criticizing Schwab for surrounding himself with “nobodies” and the rest of WEF’s senior leadership being unable to challenge Schwab or provide a stable vision for life after him: “Senior leadership will be at each other’s throats the moment the old man pops off,” according to one staff post.
Deletegate: Staff members also say they posted criticism on LinkedIn but were ordered to remove it by WEF — something the organization denies.
IMMORTAL ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Schwab seems less than happy with all the griping at this year’s event about the lack of a public succession plan. As German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told WEF delegates Wednesday afternoon that his successor in 2045 would be standing on the same stage proclaiming his country’s carbon-free economy, Schwab pointedly interjected: “I just wanted to say, I look forward to chairing the session with your successor.” Scholz responded: “I’m sure you will.”
Schwab would be 106 at WEF 2045. You have been warned.
A SUCCESSION PLAN YOU CAN BELIEVE IN: Tonight’s hot ticket is the POLITICO Davos Party at Schatzalp, with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi as our keynote interview, after which the brave can enjoy the week’s best sled run down the mountain. The smart plan is to move on from the Promenade and up our party before dinner. RSVP here.
Are you Chris Coons or Joe Manchin? Are you stuck with a last-minute Klaus Schwab dinner invite and not sure what to do? It’s not even a Klaus call: Schwab your RSVP and come party with us!
U.N. BOSS TO DAVOS: YOU’RE THE PROBLEM
HOME TRUTHS: The World Economic Forum likes to tout itself as the place where capitalism finds its moral compass. But U.N. chief António Guterres reckons the CEOs and hangers-on in Davos might need to look a little harder.
Fossil rage: In a blistering speech on Wednesday, Guterres pushed the private sector to take responsibility for fixing compounding woes that had left the world in the worst state in his 73-year lifetime. He saved special ire for the fossil firms — we counted CEOs and top executives from at least 27 coal, oil and gas companies on the attendance list — whose “business model is inconsistent with human survival.” Karl Mathiesen has more.
Top quote — “Big Oil peddled the Big Lie,” Guterres said, adding: “Just like the tobacco industry, they rode rough-shod over their own science” from the 1970s onward to deny climate change and their role in it.
GRETA’S HERE: Fresh from being briefly detained by German police at the Lützerath coal protest, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg will arrive in Davos today, to deliver a “cease and desist letter” to fossil fuel CEOs — signed by more than 800,000 people, last time we checked. She’ll also be speaking on a panel along with Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency today at the Filecoin Sanctuary.
THE GREAT BRITISH… SIDELINING?
BREXIT DIVIDEND: All the talk in recent weeks has been about EU frustrations with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. Britain’s free market-oriented government should be just as annoyed — but it isn’t really part of the debate. Thank Brexit.
Speaking of Brexit: U.K. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer will meet Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, amid hopes that long-running talks between the EU and U.K. about trading arrangements around Northern Ireland will be finalized ahead of April’s 25th anniversary of the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
LABOUR SWINGS RIGHT: As we flagged earlier this week, the relatively light delegation of U.K. Conservatives in Davos is notable this year. Into that void Starmer and his Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves arrived in town Wednesday night, with a plan to tell the 1 percent that they want a piece of the global investment pie.
Do the math: Labour says the U.K. accounted for 8 percent of the world’s foreign direct investment when Labour was in power between 1997 and 2010. Since the Tories took over? It’s just 4 percent.
CONSERVATIVES TALK SCALE-UPS: In parallel, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Business Secretary Grant Shapps will outline his plan boosting growth and innovation in Britain at a lunch hosted by the CBI, with a special focus on start-ups. Having been a small business-owner himself, Shapps wants to focus on helping start-ups scale up and mature.
RIP: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy began his keynote address at Davos on Wednesday with a minute of silence in honor of those who died in a helicopter crash earlier in the day, including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, his first deputy Yevhen Yenin and the ministry’s State Secretary Yuriy Lubkovych.
SCHOLZ SHTUM: Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz revealed little about Germany’s next steps when it comes to sending tanks to Ukraine during his appearance on stage. Instead, he highlighted the fact that Germany spent €12 billion helping Kyiv last year and would continue to support Ukraine “as long as necessary.” More from our POLITICO EU and U.S. colleagues here.
Not enough: Germany is still under pressure from allies to up its tank commitments. “What’s going on is systemic terrorism against the Ukrainian people,” European Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius — whose wife is Ukrainian — told Playbook, adding that Germany and others needed to do more. “Anyone who had those inner boundaries,” he said, referring to ongoing reluctance to send tanks to Ukraine, “I think they had enough time to overcome them.”
Stark reminder: “I think it’s very dangerous to underestimate Russia,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the forum. “They have mobilized [more than] 200,000 troops,” and President Vladimir Putin “has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of young Russian soldiers.”
WAR CRIMES:Moscow is accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine. But it could take years — perhaps more than a decade — to bring Russians to justice, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk told our own Erin Banco.
The Investigations: “I had a chance to have a very in depth discussion with the Prosecutor General of Ukraine [in December]. And he told me at the time … that they were investigating about 40,000 incidents — potential war crimes,” Türk said. “What is most important is actually to document and get the forensic evidence in place so that at any point in the future when you catch perpetrators or can prosecute, that they can prosecute them.” (For more on that, you can read POLITICO’s backgrounder on what it will take to bring the Bucha killers to justice, and this feature on the Ukrainians documenting Russian war crimes in real-time.)
Looking to the future: Türk said it is important to talk about what happens after the fighting ends. “What type of Ukraine do we want to see emerge from this?” he asked. “Where are we going to pour our money? Where is it going to be most effective?”
Ensuring successful prosecutions “would mean massive investment in the Ukrainian system,” Türk said. “They are the ones who have the evidence. They are doing the forensic examinations of all of this. So we need to make sure that that system — that we invest heavily in it.”
A DAVOS FIRST? In a chilling reminder of the very real threats facing political leaders across the globe, a trial in absentia of Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskayaopened this week, while she was in Davos. Playbook was glad to see Tsikhanouskaya dismiss the trial as a farce as she attended a number of events this week, including POLITICO’s opening cocktail.
REALITY CHECK: A reminder of the headwinds facing corporations intruded on the corporate world Wednesday, with the announcement that Microsoft will slash 10,000 jobs worldwide. Employees received an email from Microsoft’s Chief Executive Satya Nadella, right around the time he was schmoozing in Davos.
No reality check: Nadella didn’t seem perturbed — and Klaus Schwab never mentioned the by-then widely whispered about job cuts when he interviewed the Microsoft chief on stage.
GATES OF INFLUENCE: The Gates Foundation, which is gearing up to increase its annual payout by 50 percent by 2026, has a cadre of representatives in Davos this year.
CEO Mark Suzman published the annual letter for the foundation this week during the Davos forum. It tackles head on an investigation published by POLITICO this fall, which showed how the foundation and some of its closest allies in the global health space had outsized influence over how the world responded to the COVID pandemic.
Home truths: “It’s true that between our dollars, voice, and convening power, we have access and influence that many others do not,” Suzman said in the annual letter. “It’s also true that we are able to act in ways that others cannot. Because of this, we can call attention to and help find solutions for problems that otherwise might be neglected.”
ASIA FOCUS — HOW TO DO A WEF REBRAND
PHILIPPINES GETS A MAKEOVER: After the tumultuous Rodrigo Duterte regime ended in 2022 with the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. — son of the late dictator — officials in Manila needed a rebrand. WEF couldn’t have hoped for a better student.
National unity: While others have been parroting concerns about global recession and deglobalization around Davos this week, the Philippines delegation has turned up with military precision to push a message of stability harking back to the golden era of globalization.
Team Manila: Joining Marcos Jr. were former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, parliamentarians including House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez, and “The Magnificent Seven” CEOs, led by magnate Ramon Ang, head of the San Miguel conglomerate.
If you build it they will come: Instead of splashing out on super-size buffet dinners for all, the delegation was laser-focused on promoting the country’s proposed new sovereign wealth fund, the Maharlika Investment Fund, at a small breakfast POLITICO attended. The fund is set to be the centerpiece of the country’s “Build Better More” program. Marcos Jr. said the fund’s management “must be seen to be rational, sober, professional” and that officials had consulted with Norway’s successful fund on its design.
Back to the future: Manila’s messaging was straight from an IMF textbook. “Strong fiscal management is of paramount importance,” Finance Minister Benjamin Diokno told the assembled bankers and consultants, describing his plan to get public debt under 60 percent by 2025 “supported by structural reforms,” and to improve “ease of doing business” and more public-private partnerships. The government is also opening up public utilities and renewables to 100 percent foreign ownership. Of course, it’s easy to believe in data-driven policy and PR, when one’s country is growing at 7.7 percent annually.
Hans-Paul Bürkner, former president and CEO of Boston Consulting Group, said he had been involved in the Philippines since the 1970s and saw “great cause for optimism” around the new plans.
ALSO TODAY: Key address from South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol.
TALK OF THE TOWN
PRIDE ON THE PROMENADE: Continuing the LED takeover of the Davos Promenade, the main WEF street was lit up in rainbow colors Wednesday evening by the Partnership for Global LGBTIQ+ Equality.
Rainbows up: Dozens of corporate backers — including Accenture, AWS, Cisco, CNBC, Deloitte, EY, IBM, Meta, Microsoft, Salesforce, SAP, The Female Quotient and Hub Culture — are taking a stand against the anti-LGBTQ+ governments that have become increasingly prominent in Davos in recent years, led by the Saudi and Iranian regimes.
Accenture’s Ellyn Shook, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis and Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson hosted an event to lay out the case for more rainbow visibility among WEF’s inner circles.
Today, a “Beyond The Rainbow” panel will be the first official LGBTQ+ themed panel (1:15 p.m. local time), and Playbook’s own Ryan Heath will moderate a WEF-affiliated session on “Coming Out as a Public LGBTIQ+ Corporate Ally” at 10.45 a.m. in the Ice Village.
DAVOS STRUGGLES TO GET USED TO A WORLD WITHOUT RUSSIA:Erin Banco surveys the oligarch-free scene.
SCARING OFF THE TALENT: But if you thought it was only Russians being chased out of town here in the Swiss Alps, think again. Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of the Indian state government of Uttar Pradesh and a possible successor to Narendra Modi as Indian prime minister, is having his WEF party spoiled by a criminal report filed to the Swiss federal prosecutor.
Chilling effect: Filed under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” by law firm Guernica 37, the report alleges Adityanath “ordered the false imprisonment, torture and murder of civilians between December 2019 and 2020” and that “these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.” Guernica 37 alleges the chief minister does not enjoy diplomatic immunity, and hopes the filing will have a cooling effect on WEF attendance in the future by any political or business figures alleged to have committed criminal acts.
WHO WANTS TO GIVE UP THEIR HOTEL ROOM? Anti-homelessness and entrepreneurship campaigner Andrew Funk — who hosted Ryan on a Davos sleepout back in 2020 — is running a new experiment: searching for a WEF participant to swap their hotel room for a sleeping bag, while allowing homeless entrepreneur Amjal (last name withheld), to take their room. The pair would share an early breakfast to exchange stories. Funk pitched the sleepout idea to U.N. chief Guterres Tuesday night — but his security team weren’t too keen.
CALLING THEM OUT: Check out Ravi Agrawal, Foreign Policy’s editor-in-chief, calling outMathias Miedreich, CEO of the Belgian materials firm Umicore which operates in Congo, and Lubna Olayan, executive committee chair of Saudi’s Olayan Financing Company — who both showed a tendency to ignore both historic and present-day injustice when talking about their operating environments.
BACK TO SCHOOL: What do you get when you put a room full of Type A personalities together and then don’t let them talk? You get grumbles — which is what Playbook’s been hearing from attendees of the New York Times Tuesday night dinner. “We could not speak to each other at the tables and had to listen to presentations for four hours. NYT journalists were sitting at the tables shushing anyone who dared to speak to a neighbor,” complained one attendee.
WHO WANTS TO DEAL WITH A VIP? The acronym of the day in Davos is the VIP markets — aka Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines.
SWAG AWARD: The Emirati hot chocolate available outside the Emirates Promenade pavilion is the best Playbook has tasted outside of Pierre Marcolini in Brussels. The secret ingredients: saffron and cardamom.
NICE TOUCH: The Rituals range of sweet orange and sandalwood cosmetics in the bathrooms of the Alpine Inn, Google’s mothership at WEF this week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Shelley Zalis of the Female Quotient at Wednesday’s night-cap: “A woman alone has power, together we have impact, and we can change the equation. That is the power of women. That is the power of the collective.” Hats off to the Equality Lounge on the Promenade — one of the best places to be this week.
SPOTTED … at South Africa night enjoying some steamed bread with beans and tahini paste: Al Gore. Best dressed person at the event? That would be Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
SPOTTED … at the Friends of Ukraine dinner hosted by Ukrainian businessman Victor Pinchuk: Foreign Ministers Gabrielius Landsbergis (Lithuania) and Hadja Lahbib (Belgium); Co-Chair European Council on Foreign Relations Carl Bildt; Former European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström; President of the Munich Security Conference Foundation Wolfgang Ischinger; Member of the European Parliament Radek Sikorski; Fred Kempe and John Herbst of the Atlantic Council; Nobel Peace Prize-laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk; Former U.K. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox; FT’s Gillian Tett; Ukrainian historian Serhii Plokhy; Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Melanne Verveer; Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer; POLITICO’s Editor-in-Chief Matt Kaminski; Former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and current Finance Minister Magdalena Rzeczkowska; Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations.
SPOTTED … A very active South Korean delegation on the dance floor of the McKinsey Nightcap at the Belvedere.
— “Finding Europe’s New Growth.” Featuring: Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde; European Commission Vice President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis; Christian Sewing, chief executive of Deutsche Bank; Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković (11.30 a.m.).
— Panel discussion with activists Greta Thunberg, Helena Gualinga, Vanessa Nakate, Luisa Neubauer and Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency at Filecoin Sanctuary (11.15 a.m.).
— Special address by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (11.30 a.m.).
— Al Gore on traceability for greenhouse gas emissions (1.30 p.m.).
— Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis in conversation with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria (3 p.m.).
— “Widening Europe’s Horizons.” Featuring: European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama; moderated by POLITICO’s Jamil Anderlini (4.15 p.m.).