The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) is about to kick off in Davos and with heads of state and global business leaders gathering at the event, keeping attendants safe is a top priority.
President Donald Trump, the European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde, the new managing director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and climate activist Greta Thunberg are just a few of the high-profile names (there are 3,000 attendants) at the summit in the Swiss Alps that runs from January 21 to 24.
With many people watching the event to see if the world’s elite can agree on how to improve “the state of the world,” Switzerland and WEF bear a huge burden of responsibility to ensure attendants are kept safe — and that they are seen to be kept safe too.
As such, security is both conspicuous and discreet in Davos.
Soldiers patrol the streets of the small ski-orientated town and security checks are carried out on personnel, vehicle and bags on access roads into the area. Snipers can be seen stationed on the roofs of buildings; security is obviously extremely tight within the main Forum too, known as the Congress Center.
The Forum is held in the Swiss state of Graubünden — the Canton of Grisons — and the regional government is in charge of security rather than the country’s Ministry of Defense, although the local authority can ask for help from police teams outside the state as well as from the Swiss armed forces, which do attend the event.
The Canton of Grisons has published security information and costs for 2020 and says that the additional costs for the security of the WEF Annual Meeting 2020 are expected to total around 9 million Swiss francs ($9.35 million).
A quarter of those costs are borne by WEF (around 2.25 million Swiss francs), another quarter by the Canton of Grisons, the Davos municipality pays an eighth of the costs and federal government around a third (around 3.3 million Swiss francs). In previous years, the army has incurred costs of around 32 million Swiss francs per annual meeting.
WEF notes that, overall, the deployment of the armed forces to support the event is funded through the Swiss defense department’s budget. Switzerland’s Parliament authorized the deployment of up to 5,000 armed forces personnel in 2019-2021 for “civil support duties.”
“Overall, the cost of deploying troops at the WEF Annual Meeting is much the same as that incurred by the same battalions when on regular training. In previous years, the deployment of the armed forces has cost around 32 million Swiss francs per meeting,” WEF notes.
The threat of potential terrorist attacks at an event like the Forum is at the forefront of authorities’ minds too and security restrictions are in place over the airspace of Davos to safeguard air sovereignty.
The Swiss government states that “the terrorist threat in many European countries remains elevated or high” and that the “spate of attacks in Europe and their considerable media impact may also incite radicalised persons in Switzerland to carry out terrorist violence.”
“The security authorities at federal and cantonal level continuously assess the situation and take appropriate measures where necessary. Robust security precautions with a high, visible police presence, intensive reconnaissance and police checks is necessary in 2020 to ensure that the WEF Annual Meeting passes off safely.”
Security costs can change, of course, especially if there is the participation of an extraordinarily large number people who are designated as “internationally protected people” or significant increase in accommodation costs for non-cantonal security staff.
Or there is an unforeseen expansion of the security zone in Davos due to the number of protective persons or even due to meteorological reasons, in that case the Swiss government will provide extra funds.
The Federal Security Service will order special protective measures if necessary for internationally protected foreign persons such as heads of state, heads of government and their officials.
Some attendants, corporate leaders for example, often employ their own security services for close protection. Hotels in Davos that are used as venues for some WEF events will bring in extra security from firms like the German-based R.A.D. Security.
“We’ve had some corporate leaders and we will accompany them the whole time,” Rosa Lenz, head of international projects at the security firm, told CNBC Thursday.
“We will check the routes to be taken by clients, we will check venues beforehand, we will sometimes send in canine crews to check venues, or teams with metal detectors. The costs depend on the materials needed for the security service and time and manpower needed.”
Providing security at Davos is lucrative, Lenz said, although she would not give an idea of the costs involved: “It is lucrative, but it’s the reference that counts. It’s not only the money it’s the prestige that counts, and we are proud to be a part of that (WEF).”
Protecting the elite costs, but the Forum is a way for Switzerland to attract the global political and business community, continuing what the Swiss government says is its “longstanding tradition of serving as a host country for international conferences and gatherings” and it provides jobs in the area.
What’s more, the event makes money; the latest figures available show that WEF generated sales of 326 million Swiss francs in the financial year July 2017 to June 2018 (only businesses pay to attend the event) and a surplus of 1.7 million Swiss francs, which was added to the WEF foundation’s capital.
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