Bled Forum "Incubator of New Partnerships"
Ljubljana, 17 August - The Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) is one of Slovenia's most important foreign policy projects and an important incubator of international partnerships, the event's secretary general Alain Brian Bergant has told the STA in the run-up to the event. "The forum is a show of Slovenian success, openness, innovation and confidence."
Returning to the lakeside resort of Bled for its tenth instalment, the annual forum is expected to bring together 700 participants from 60 countries to deliberate on the "Vision of New Partnerships" over two days on 31 August and 1 September.
As has become customary, the event will be attended by politicians, business representatives, young leaders and representatives of NGOs from around the world.
Headlining the list of participants this year will be the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who is returning to Bled two years after attending the event as NATO assistant secretary general.
"Grabar-Kitarović was one of the first to accept the invitation, replying to Slovenian President Borut Pahor already in May that she was looking forward to the Bled Forum," said the Foreign Ministry official.
While relations between Slovenia and Croatia have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks due to a scandal surrounding the border arbitration, debates at Bled are not expected to focus on this issue, said Bergant.
The main panel featuring both Pahor and the Croatian president will centre around the need for partnerships in the new global order. A special theme will be several important anniversaries that are taking place this year.
"We intend to speak about the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations, the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, while 20 years are also passing since the end of the wars in the Balkans and the Srebrenica Genocide."
In addition to Tusk and Grabar-Kitarović, the headline participants will also include Serbian President Aleksander Vučić, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and OSCE Secretary General Lambert Zannier.
Eight foreign ministers are expected in Bled, with Bergant highlighting the arrival of Iraqi minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari.
Another 18 ministers and two European commissioners, Violeta Bulc for transport and Tibor Navracsics for education, the new President of the International Criminal Court, Alejandra Fernandez de Gurmendi, and the director of the International Organisation for Migration, William Lacy Swing, are also expected to take part.
The line-up will also feature an A list of international journalists who will chair the debates, including respected names from the Financial Times, The Guardian and the BBC.
"The forum will go on to debate the prevention of sexual violence in conflicts in a panel being prepared together with the British Foreign Office. A debate on the Western Balkans will be featured again, although in a change we will be looking to hear from those with interests in the region...including France, Germany, the US."
In recent years increasing focus at the BSF has been paid to the Mediterranean and this year will be no exception as the security situation and the migration crisis are raised.
Other items on the packed agenda for the two days include the rights of the elderly, the role of music in international relations and the outlook for the future.
To mark the tenth anniversary of the forum, the opening ceremony will feature a cultural programme spanning a concert and the screening of a film looking back at the ten years since the first forum was held in 2006.
In this time the forum has grown and turned into a hallmark event for Slovenian diplomacy, argued Bergant.
"The BSF is a soft, indirect tool in the hands of Slovenian foreign policy. It represents an important part of the foreign policy toolbox and one of the most important conferences in the region."
He said the event was gaining in international recognition. "We can say we have made this a tradition. Each year the debates, the speakers and the participants get more interesting."
As a result, the number of sponsors is also growing. Of the budget of around EUR 200,000, around three-quarters comes from sponsors "who view the forum as an opportunity to promote themselves and to establish new contacts".
One of the key sections of the two-day event is the Bled Business Forum, which will again take place alongside the political part. "The focus will be on tourism, as part of which we have been pledged attendance by nine ministers from the Baltic, Central Europe and the Western Balkans."
The fallout of the financial and economic crisis and austerity, development of transport, and efforts to finalise the Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership (TTIP) will also be debated.
Ahead of the BSF opening, around 35 young people will get together for the Young BSF, a warm-up event reserved for young future leaders from around the world to debate issues of innovation and technology.
Bergant said that the BSF had growing ambitions. "Perhaps the tenth anniversary is a time for a closer review so we can decide on where to go in the future. Whether to promote a breadth of topics or focus on one specific area? I think the current strategy is the right one. One possibility would be to open debates to the public more."