Thursday 8 December 2016

Davos 2016: Bells toll as billionaires, sages and world leaders descend on Swiss town

Published 20/01/2016 | 09:51

Swiss special police officers observe the surrounding area from the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Swiss special police officers observe the surrounding area from the roof of the Davos Congress Hotel yesterday. Photo: Reuters

The aural assault lasts fully 10 minutes. At 7am what sounds like every church bell in Zurich erupts in a loud, continuous and surprisingly unmusical battery of sustained clattering and banging.

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The Swiss don't really go in for lie-ons, it turns out. 

Even an Irish journalist couldn't sleep through it.

Most of the billionaires, world leaders and sages arriving to the rural resort town of Davos are doubtless whisked in by some combination of private jet and limousine. But for the rest of us the train from Zurich - home to the nearest airport-  takes you to the village in about two and a half hours.

To cover the event fully you'll ideally be on the train leaving Zurich Hauptbahnhoff at 8.37am on Wednesday. It gets in to Davos on time to get registered and oriented for the start of the annual World Economic Forum conference, which formally kicks off later in the evening.

A later train leaves Zurich at 9.37am. At midnight on Tuesday that seems awfully tempting.

However, thanks to the the nagging bell ringers of Zurich there's pretty much no chance you'll give way to temptation, sleep-in, and miss your correct train.

In Switzerland they don't just make sure that the trains run on time, they insist that the passengers do too.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will attend the meeting this week.

But leaders meeting in Davos this week face an increasingly divided world, with the poor falling further behind the super-rich and political fissures in the United States, Europe and the Middle East running deeper than at any time in decades.

Just 62 people, 53 of them men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire world population and the richest 1 percent own more than the other 99 percent put together, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said on Monday.

Significantly, the wealth gap is widening faster than anyone anticipated, with the 1 percent overtaking the rest one year earlier than Oxfam had predicted only a year ago.

Rising inequality and a widening trust gap between people and their political leaders are big challenges for the global elite as they converge on Davos for the annual World Economic Forum, which runs from Jan. 20 to 23.

But the divisions go far beyond those that exist between the haves and have-nots. In the Middle East, the divide between Shi'ites and Sunnis has reached crisis point, with Iran and Saudi Arabia jostling openly for influence in a region reeling from war and the barbarism of Islamic extremists.

The conflicts there have spilled over into Europe, causing deep ideological rifts over how to handle the worst refugee crisis since World War Two and - with Britain threatening to leave the European Union - raising doubts about the future of Europe's six-decade push towards ever closer integration.

(Additional reporting Reuters)

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