EU's future, regional cooperation in focus of Bled Strategic Forum
Ljubljana - The 15th Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) will be very different from previous iterations of Slovenia's flagship foreign policy event. Restrictions will be in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and some panels will be held online. But Peter Grk, the BSF secretary general, notes that the line-up will nevertheless be "exceptional".
"We're trying to show that in these altered circumstances, it is possible to organise an event such as the BSF," Grk told the STA, noting that flexibility was one of the hallmarks of BSF, "as is the quest for innovative answers and solutions to this constant changeability of the world."
Despite the pandemic and the demand for strict precautionary measures, the organisers opted for a mostly on-site event. "The pandemic has shown that the virtual world, digital conferences are now the right answer and cannot replace in-person contacts and live conversation," he said.
There will be fewer guests in Bled than in years past, the forum will be a one-day event, there will be no youth or business section. Five panels will be in-person and two digital-only.
"But participation will be exceptional, especially considering the fact that we are living at a time when travel and meetings are fairly restricted," Grk says in view of the confirmed attendance of the prime ministers of Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and the president of Serbia. Half a dozen foreign ministers have been confirmed as well.
The event will be shorter, "but quality will not suffer," said Grk, adding that "surprises are still possible" as some invitations are still outstanding.
The forum will focus on the aftermath of the pandemic and the future of the EU. "The pandemic has laid bare certain cracks, an inability of the current multilateral system to respond to such crises in an effective way. In this light regional and neighbourly cooperation has been strengthened."
A significant segment of the debates, the leaders' panel in particular, will revolve around the future of the EU. "Now is the key moment when the EU must address the fundamental issues of its development: where we are going, who we are, what are the key principles underlying the EU," according to Grk.
Other debates will be about cybersecurity, digitalisation and European security, the latter focusing both on the development of European defence capabilities and EU-NATO cooperation, and relations with Russia, China and other global players.
The Western Balkans panel, which typically closes the event, will not be held this year due to the epidemiological situation in the region. But as Grk pointed out, the region will be among the priorities of Slovenia's presidency of the EU in 2021, which is why there will be a separate debate with Miroslav Lajček, the EU's special representative for Western Balkans.
Overall the event will comply with all epidemiological rules and recommendations. Masks will be mandatory indoors, participants will be asked to maintain physical distance and disinfect their hands.
All guests and their delegations from high-risk countries will have to present negative coronavirus test results, those coming from outside the EU will be tested in Slovenia.
"I think we're the first ones in Europe to try and organise such a forum and show that it can be done," Grk said.
The two main panels, respectively featuring prime ministers and foreign ministers, will be at the larger Festival Hall venue, where there will be room for only 156 invited guests.
At the second venue, the Rikli Balance Hotel, there will be conference room for 160 people and seats will be filled on a first come, first served basis.
All panels will be livestreamed, and two will be digital-only anyway. Guests will thus have the chance either to follow the debates in-person, participate online by registering (this will allow them to ask questions), or simply by viewing the livestreams.
Like in the years before, the BSF will remain a venue for bilateral meetings. "This is one of the aims of the BSF - to bring together people for conversation. Despite the epidemic, we are thus making sure networking happens," said Grk.