EU presidency more demanding due to pandemic

Ljubljana – The EU presidency, which Slovenia will hold in the second half of the year, will be even more demanding than usually owing to the coronavirus pandemic, Gregor Štajer, the head of the government secretariat in charge of presidency organisation, has told the STA. Slovenia plans to host nearly 190 events, many of which may have to take place online.

The events calendar is not ready for public release yet, said Štajer, adding that the way things stand at the moment, Slovenia will host 185 events.

The most demanding event in terms of organisation will be the summit of EU leaders. September will be very challenging as well, with Slovenia hosting the annual Bled Strategic Forum, as well as sessions of EU foreign ministers and defence ministers.

Another major event will be a summit on the Western Balkans, planned for the first half of October. These are some of the currently planned 19 events at the ministerial or higher level.

The remaining 166 events will be held at sub-ministerial level, said Štajer. Seventy are organised by his secretariat and the rest by ministries.

It is unclear whether events will take place in person or online, with everything depending on the epidemiological situation, said Štajer. It has already been decided that 35 events will be held online.

The secretariat is in regular consultation with a group comprised of representatives of the Health Ministry and the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ). At least 30 days before individual events it will be decided whether they will be held in person or online.

“It’s the minimum period we need to organise an event,” said Štajer.

Moreover, the situation may deteriorate during this time to such a degree that an event planned to be held in person will still be moved online, he noted.

Štajer noted that if a decision was being made now for an event that is to take place in a month’s time, they would recommend it take place online. Everything will depend on pandemic rules in place at the given moment.

“No doubt this might be the biggest logistical challenge. We’re preparing for both scenarios, but a decision will be hard to make […] The safety of people will take precedence. If we allow an in-person event, more or less normal conditions must be ensured.”

Meals will be one of the biggest problems, as people take off their masks while eating. Those organising events will be looking for providers with large-enough dining rooms. The same will apply to venues hosting in-person conferences. Events at ministerial or higher levels are to be held at the Brdo pri Kranju estate.

As regards lower-level events, they are to be held at Brdo and Ljubljana, as well as Bled, Portorož and Maribor. The organisers are also thinking about setting up a central videoconference point in Ljubljana for online events.

A public call for bids was issued in autumn for technical equipment and contracts are now being signed, so that individual ministries will be able to organise some events themselves, said Štajer.

A call for bids for transport services is still ongoing. It represents a major part of the presidency budget, which has been estimated at EUR 80 million. If a majority of events take place online, the expenses may be lower.