European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab in Davos on May 24, 2022.
©Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates were invited to the G20 summit held in Bali, Indonesia.
Atlantico: Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab attended the G20 in Indonesia this week. Their presence has reignited a number of conspiracy theories about them. Far from far-fetched speculation, what were they really doing there?
Cyrille Brett: With this invitation, civil society confirms its role in international relations. In the classic model that prevailed until the end of the USSR, the players of international relations were exclusively states and their alliances. Intermediary bodies were not associated with the main meetings: at the G7 summits or the United Nations General Assemblies, non-state actors remained outside the forum. International organizations such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, Médecins du Monde, multinational companies such as Microsoft, and even professional networks (Reporters Without Borders) were present in the media, but not in international forums.
With the globalization of the 21st century, some private or non-state actors have gained a significant international role. This is an example of the World Economic Forum, founded by Klaus Schwab in 1971 in Davos. Since the 2000s, this annual private forum for business leaders has begun to systematically attract economic leaders. It was there that many informal meetings, prominent speeches and discussions were held between the heads of state and government. It is in this position that Klaus Schwab is invited to participate in certain events within the framework of the G20 interstate summit. It is the equivalent of a World Economic Forum session, in the sense that states invite civil society just as civil society invites heads of state to Davos.
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What is the legitimacy of men like Schwab and Gates attending meetings like the G20?
Cyrille Brett: Strictly speaking, the two businessmen are not participating in the interstate summit itself. Only elected or appointed official state representatives have a say in leading debates, speaking on behalf of nations, contributing to final communiqués, and possibly proposing joint resolutions. The two businessmen are taking part in official consultations outside the summit. This corresponds to the main trend in international forums: the governments of Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank), COPs or even regional international organizations (EU, African Union, ASEAN) within the framework of the UN wanted to unite the actors of this organization. civil society. They do it through panels, discussions, debates, etc. they do in the form of associations, NGOs, etc. But states retain the monopoly of international relations as decision-making actors.
I have already discussed the reasons for Klaus Schwab’s participation as the founder of the global private forum for heads of state in Davos and the resulting thematic and regional forums. As for Bill Gates, who is the 4th richest person in the world according to the Forbes ranking in 2021, he participates in the Foundation that he created with his wife Melinda. Holding several tens of billions of dollars, this fund is a major player in Official Development Assistance (ODA), as it is estimated to account for more than a quarter of global private ODA each year. His activities are numerous in the humanitarian field. The main reason Bill Gates was invited to certain meetings around the G20 in Indonesia is the foundation’s weight and professionalism in these development aid programs. Neither organization nor the World Economic Forum nor the Gates Foundation is a public institution. Of course, they have their own interests to protect. But they are linked through their founders to the international life that the G20 has been trying to update since its inception to reflect the movements of globalization.
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To what extent are they important and influential interlocutors for world leaders or not?
Cyrille Brett: Limitations on the scope of action of public officials are well known, especially in democratic societies. Media, parliaments, trade unions, public finance crisis, competition of big companies etc. all these factors reduce the weight of national leaders in the domestic and foreign political scene. Non-state entities (NGOs, associations, foundations, companies, etc.) play a very important role due to their financial capabilities and the concentration of their resources on several specific and publicized topics. Government leaders often need private funds to carry out certain missions that ordinary administrations find difficult to carry out.
Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab don’t have to be the trees that hide the forest. Many private initiatives (entrepreneurship, philanthropy, media, intellectual, etc.) that have a certain influence on the fate of nations are developing in international relations. In particular, private mediation carried out by private organizations to facilitate the resolution of conflicts, the promotion of ceasefires, and the exchange of prisoners has become important in areas where there are long-term hidden conflicts: the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central America or Southeast Asia.
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