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Bled forum head says sustainable development matter of urgency

Ljubljana, 15 August - Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) secretary-general Peter Grk has told the STA that the stage is set at the lakeside resort for a new round of discussions on key topics, the focus this year being on sustainable development and climate change. Topping the list of high-profile guests are the Estonian president and the future head of the EU's diplomacy.

Ljubljana
Bled Strategic Forum secretary general Peter Grk.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA

The central part of what is already the 14th iteration of Slovenia's top foreign policy event will be held on 2 and 3 September under the title (Re)Sources of (In)Stability.

Grk said that the ambition each year was to feature discussions as well as guests that could "capture the most important challenges and problems faced by the global community".

"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for humanity in the coming years and decades. This is not a problem that will arise tomorrow. It is a challenge we are already facing today," he said.

The Bled meeting will aspire to go beyond only talking about climate change and also "try to look at how we need to change as a community in terms of sustainable development if the current level of development as well as norms and human rights are to be preserved".

"Its a fact that we live longer and better quality lives than in the past. But this comes at a price and the price is climate change," he said, also speaking of a crisis of the resources used so far - these are either harmful to the environment or running out.

"Also key is the question how to go about sustainable development to prevent it from deepening social differences and aggravating tensions. Sustainable development should become a responsibility for everybody, meaning that its benefits will be felt by everybody."

"We will examine this aspect from various viewpoints at BSF. We'll explore the responsibility of corporations, of government, as well as individuals, look at concepts, mechanisms and instruments that each factor in society needs to use for sustainable development to catch on or become integral. This will not happen unless we see an opportunity as opposed to danger in sustainable development," Grk said.

He noted that the BSF, traditionally held in early September, was a kind of prelude to the political autumn, both in Europe and wider.

"In this sense we will look at the situation in the EU, its future after the formation of the new European Commission. Given that we're marking the 70th anniversary of NATO, we'll examine the future challenges for transatlantic ties. A special panel will be dedicated to the issue of migration, which is also assuming a very important role in the context of sustainable development.

"As has become tradition, we'll also have a panel on the Western Balkans, which are facing particular challenges - the odds of EU enlargement should become fairly clear in the coming months. This is also important for Slovenia in the context of our presidency over the EU in 2021," Grk added.

Meanwhile, the business segment of the Bled forum will see a continuation, in cooperation with partners, of discussions on AI. A new aspect will be discussions on the introduction of new technologies, especially green technologies or the circular economy.

"This is one of the topics that gets a lot of lip service but then little gets done. And here we see a chance to raise this concept to a higher level and strengthen awarenesses about its importance in the context of sustainable development or the fight against climate change."

The Bleed meeting will again feature a number of exciting guests, with Grk even announcing "a few surprises". "The strategic forum will be held at a very important time, both for Europe and wider, so we expect it to be one of the more resounding forums in recent years," he said.

The list of the high-ranking foreign guests includes Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well at least ten foreign ministers, among them Spain's Josep Borrell, who is assuming the post of the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Also, Finish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto will attend on behalf of the country presiding over the Council of the EU, while Julian King from Great Britain as Commissioner for Security Union will be representing the outgoing team of the European Commission.

Other high-profile guests who have confirmed attendance include Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčak, who is serving as OSCE chairperson-in-office, and the current President of the UN General Assembly Fernanda Espinosa.

"This way we will have the entire multilateral global framework covered in Bled this year," Grk pointed out, while moreover highlighting the attendance of economist Jeffrey Sachs, coffee mogul Andrea Illy, Boston Consulting group head Martin Reeves, former Italian PM Enrico Letta and former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.

Grk praised cooperation with various partners, saying it was deepened and strengthened each year. "This comes to show that the strategic forum has evolved into an interesting and successful story and that we're trying to move certain things not only regionally but also in the European and perhaps global context".

He is convinced that the 14th iteration will provide findings that "Slovenian and European politics will be able to use in their future activities".

"The 15th anniversary is coming next year. This is already a number that shows we're slowly maturing as a forum. This is reflected both in the response of the international public as well as the guests, panellists, who confirm their participation fairly quickly each year or propose coming on their own," added the official.

There are no plans to grow the forum further. "We again expect around 1,000 to 1,200 participants from 60 to 80 countries," he said, while announcing the number of panel discussions would also not be increased.

"We are consciously not increasing these numbers, since we've come close to what is possible in terms of infrastructure at the event as well as in terms of logistical and technical demands in Bled. And in general, the ambition of the conference is not to become the biggest, but to have more quality," Grk said about the event, which is organised jointly by the Foreign Ministry and the Centre for European Perspective.

The format will also not change, with "the business segment remaining part of the BSF, just like the forum for the young which has become key for the partnership with the young and the promotion of their voice at the BSF". "I believe it is crucial that the young speak their mind on the challenges we face in the future," Grk said.

The budget for the conference also remains comparable to that in previous years, meaning around EUR 250,000. Most of the funding comes from partners and sponsors, Grk explained.

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© STA, 2019