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The Agenda at Bled Strategic Forum 2021 this Week

The annual Bled Strategic Forum (BSF), Slovenia’s pre-eminent foreign-policy conference, will take place in Bled on Wednesday and Thursday. The conference discussions will focus on the future of Europe and will feature the most high-level line-up of senior officials to date.

Top Slovenian officials, including President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Janez Janša, will welcome officials including European Council President Charles Michel, and European Parliament President David Sassoli.

The list of guests from abroad includes two presidents, ten prime ministers, two European commissioners and several foreign ministers; the latter will also attend an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brdo pri Kranju on Thursday.

Several other high-level guests are also expected, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the secretary of state of the Vatican. Five former prime ministers or presidents have been confirmed.

A special guest will be Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus opposition leader, according to Peter Grk, the secretary general of the Bled Strategic Forum.

Around 170 panellists from all over the world will discuss various aspects of the future of Europe, a topic which is not only among the priorities of the Slovenian presidency but of the entire EU, Grk said.

“A weak EU cannot be in anyone’s interest,” he stressed. “A weak EU means an unclear future, both in terms of our mutual relations and the role that the EU will play in the future international architecture,” he said.

“The debate on the future of Europe has reached a stage where solutions, proposals and ideas need to be found on how we will continue to live together as the EU or as Europe.”

While the 16th BSF will focus on the priorities of the Slovenian EU presidency, it will create an opportunity for debate on all top issues faced by Europe and the international community at the moment.

In this sense, the conference’s four main themes are the future of Europe, transatlantic relations, sustainable development and digitalisation, said Grk.

The debate on the transatlantic relations will be marked by developments in Afghanistan, while the talks on sustainable development will be closely connected to the fight against climate change.

“This summer was a big warning that sustainable development and the fight against climate change must be taken very seriously. Half of the planet was on fire. Literally,” he said.

Since prime ministers of all Western Balkan countries and all three members of the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina will attend, the BSF will be a preparation for the informal summit of the EU and Western Balkans which Slovenia will host in early October.

Both Janša and Pahor will take part in the panel on the EU enlargement process, which is one of the priorities of the Slovenian EU presidency.

Grk also highlighted a visit by Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is to present developments in the Indo-Pacific region, where major change is under way.

A panel discussing this is also expected to touch on the future of Afghanistan, a topic that will be covered in more detail at a panel featuring defence ministers.

The Covid-19 pandemic will be on the agenda as well, with this year’s panels focussing on recovery. The digital transformation of Europe will be discussed, as will the future of European tourism.

As customary, the forum is preceded by the Young BSF, a conference attended by about 40 up-and-coming leaders from the EU and its neighbourhood that started on Sunday. They too will mostly discus the future of Europe.

Due to the current epidemiological situation, some panellists will take part in debates online, but most plan to attend in-person.

Grk said that the health of all participants will be one of the organisers’ main priorities. In line with general requirements, all participants will need to meet the tested-vaccinated-recovered requirement. Debates will also be broadcast online.

According to Grk, the fact that the BSF has not been affected by the pandemic much this year shows that it is becoming a leading conference in SE Europe.

Last year, the BSF was a one-day event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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