Friday, 3 Feb 2023

Gavin McLoughlin: 'From tax to traffic jams: 10 things we learned at the World Economic Forum'

1. Ireland is under serious pressure on tax

Everyone loves the Irish right? Our personalities maybe, but it is clear that our corporate tax regime has done us damage.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had a pretty brutal swipe at us, denouncing “EU tax havens which abuse their taxation systems” while sitting right next to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Then, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria denounced Apple’s tax treatment by Ireland as “gaming the system” while sitting right next to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

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The Government and Apple have always denied wrongdoing of course – but there’s no getting away from perceptions. In their most high-profile public appearances at the summit, both Mr Varadkar and Mr Donohoe were forced to defend our regime.

2. Taoiseach keeps his shoes in SuperValu bag

The evidence for this was found in a picture tweeted by Euronews correspondent Shona Murray. Mr Varadkar can be seen removing his snow shoes, with a handy SuperValu cloth bag at his feet ready to store his footwear. It may not be the most elegant mode of transporting clothing, but it’s always worked for this reporter. SuperValu will doubtless be delighted to learn the Taoiseach is a customer.

3. Britain is keeping a low profile

Theresa May didn’t show up for the Forum this year – understandable given she has plenty to worry about at home. Chancellor Philip Hammond came instead.

And while Mr Hammond was doubtless networking furiously behind the scenes, he kept his head down in public. The Chancellor was supposed to take part in panel discussions on the future of Europe and on the global growth outlook. He pulled out of both.

4. A no-deal Brexit will lead to Ireland-UK-EU negotiations to avoid a hard border

Mr Varadkar said he doesn’t like hypothetical questions, but he nevertheless went on to give his view of what will happen if there is no Brexit deal.

Ireland will have to sit down with the EU and the UK and negotiate a way to avoid a hard Border.

“We would have to agree on full alignment on customs and regulations. So after a period of chaos, we would perhaps end up exactly where we are now, with a very similar deal,” he said.

It’s easy to say, but one suspects it might be more difficult to achieve given the UK’s resistance to full alignment so far.

5. Davos is a bit like speed dating

It may seem glamorous, but Davos is hard work. Bilateral meetings are lined up one after the other, with participants ushered out of the room after 30 minutes to allow the next meeting to take place. That means you have limited time to get your message across.

6. South Africa’s leaders are on message with their fashion

It was impossible to miss a member of the South African delegation. They were wearing very natty scarves knitted to look like the country’s flag. It’s a clever way of making yourself visible to anyone who might like to talk to you. Ireland’s green ties are good too – but probably not quite as good.

7. The fight against HIV/AIDS has stalled, according to Bono

The U2 frontman thinks domestic problems in advanced economies have hindered efforts to tackle the disease in Africa. With problems like homelessness rising, some say domestic problems should be taken care of first. Though he did not specifically name the migration crisis, Bono said recent events had shown that Europe cannot succeed if Africa fails. He also issued a strong defence of capitalism, which he said had lifted more people out of poverty than any other political philosophy.

8. Irish disability campaigners are making a big impacT

Caroline Casey has managed to sign up six of the world’s biggest companies to take part in a new disability inclusion campaign.

Unilever, Microsoft, Barclays, Fujitsu, Cinepolis and Accenture have pledged to put the issue on their boardroom agenda. Richard Branson is also backing the campaign.

Separately, Sinead Burke made a powerful speech asking for people with disabilities to be included in the design process in areas like architecture. “From the earliest of ages I’ve been having to manipulate architecture and design for my independence… perhaps it’s in the design of public restrooms and I cannot reach the lock on the cubicle door,” she said. “We need to be encouraging design students that there is not just one body.”

9 Davos traffic is absolute mayhem

The town’s roads are narrow, they’re icy, and with an influx of people there can be quite the traffic jam.

Perhaps it would be better if all could be loaded onto buses but one suspects this might not suit everyone’s requirements, or indeed sense of themselves. The result of all these cars is a bigger carbon footprint for the event, and that’s not even to mention all the private jets being used. All this snazzy travel highlights the fact that some of the Davos rhetoric on climate change is not always being matched by action.

10. Don’t bother trying to argue with the security guards

I learned this when I wasn’t being let into the main building, just as the Taoiseach was about to speak to Irish reporters for the only time on the trip. There was a problem with my security badge, and my pleas that it would be a disaster if I missed Mr Varadkar’s comments were met with utter indifference. More than that – I was asked to leave the building.

Luckily, I managed to get an official to sort out the problem just in time.

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