The Bled Strategic Forum, the pre-eminent foreign policy event in Slovenia, ended on Tuesday after two days of reflections that focused on the technology-driven societal and economic change summed up by the forum’s title New Reality.
Calls for common solutions to challenges posed by the changing world dominated the agenda of the first day, with senior Slovenian officials opening the forum by singling out challenges such as climate change and existing and emerging security threats.
Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec stressed that “we are facing new international actors” and “still struggle to address climate change and its negative global impact”. Prime Minister Miro Cerar noted that new challenges, which had “become the key driver of progress in society”, demanded new approaches.
The leader’s panel, the central event of the first day of proceedings, took a broad look at the technology-driven change shaping present-day society. While the participants found some cause for concern, they also exuded optimism.
The debate, featuring EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, former Slovenian President Danilo Türk and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, dedicated a lot of time to debating youths, specifically how they can be activated and engaged in policy-making, and how to create jobs.
Several policy proposals were put forward, but the overarching suggestion was that youths should get active and participate in the democratic process to achieve change; being active on social media is not enough.
With the forum coming just a day after North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test, some of the debates also touched on the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said a cooperative rather than confrontational approach to existing challenges, including in North Korea and the Western Balkans, was needed.
Miroslav Lajčak, the president-elect for the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, touched on North Korea indirectly by saying that such issues needed to be addressed by the UN General Assembly as the most representative UN body.
The second day featured over a dozen panels dedicated to issues such as the EU’s future, the progress of the Western Balkans towards the EU, global nuclear governance, human rights in time of change and Twitter diplomacy.
The panel on the EU in the changed world argued that the EU is facing numerous challenges, including a crisis of trust and identity. The key to its future lies in convergence, integration, cooperation and attention to people’s needs.
The debate on global nuclear governance saw South Korean Foreign Ministry official Enna Park saying that condemning the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea was not enough. She called for concrete action by the international community.
At the panel on Western Balkans, a mainstay of the forum, foreign ministers from the region were in broad agreement that the EU accession process has a transformative effect on the countries. But they also warned that the accession was taking too long and ought to be more predictable.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein presented his office’s activity and human rights developments in the world at a special panel. He highlighted an erosion of commitments built on the experience of enormous human suffering in the first half of the 20th century and was very critical of the US president.
In line with this year’s motto, the business segment of the BSF focused on various aspects of innovation and how it affects and changes society. It touched on connectivity and leading the change, as well as the relation between government and business in the globalised and digitalised world.
A special panel was dedicated to tourism, in particular the collaborative economy.
The debate revolved around whether and how to regulate the new providers without suffocating the growth, how cities should deal with growing number of tourists, and what the new providers, especially big platforms such as AirBnB, should do to allow policy makers to enforce efficient and just regulation.
Youth BSF, the segment featuring young leaders, featured debates under the banned (Dis)connected Reality, which were condensed in a nine-point manifesto dealing with electronics, the environment and the economy.
While the BSF followed the established formula, there was one novelty this year as Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčak received a special accolade in being named a BSF distinguished partner for his enduring support of the purposes and principles of the forum.