Ukraine has challenged Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea to bring Expo 2030 to Odessa. It has officially decided to participate in the international competition to host Expo 2030.
Ukraine has proposed Odesa as the venue for the big event. The competitors are Italy (Rome), Russia (Moscow), Saudi Arabia (Riyadh) and South Korea (Busan).
But, surprisingly, Ukraine has a good chance of winning. Among other reasons, there are geopolitical factors that play against the other competitors.
The critical part of the competition to host an Expo is to obtain the majority of votes by 170 countries belonging to the Bureau des Expositions in Paris. Each member will vote according to political and economic reasons. Let’s examine the other challengers’ weaknesses:
• Italy has a low chance of winning with Rome because the country already hosted Milan Expo in 2015. Fifteen years of a gap is a too short time to place the event in one country again.
• Russia and Saudi Arabia are rich and powerful countries, but with a diplomatic deficit. The questionable reputation of their leaders (read about Navalny and Khashoggi) will not help them to collect votes, because their supporting States will have to explain it to their respective publics.
• South Korea is on the heels of Japan, where Expo 2025 will be held in Osaka. Another universal exposition after 5 years in the same geographical area is very unlikely, the good image of South Korea notwithstanding.
In diplomatic terms, these handicaps put Ukraine in pole position. Of course, Ukraine has its own weakness, concerning organisation skills and coordination between political institutions.
A Glance at Expo
Let’s briefly explain what’s Expo about.
The Universal Exposition (Expo) is a recurring international event, hosted by a city, each 5 years for 6 months.
The first one took place in London in 1851. Expo has become a unique marketing opportunity of for a country and for the city. It brings millions of visitors, international investments, tangible (jobs, GDP) and intangible (culture, visibility) benefits. It boosts local business and culture and accelerates public works and service innovations.
A competition to gain the right to host an Expo is divided into three phases:
1. Preparation of the Dossier of Candidacy (title of the Expo, site, financial plan, infrastructure, city services, partners, cultural plan). The project has to show how countries are motivated. Therefore, should be an impressive one. This phase will reduce the number of candidate s from five to two or three cities. Exams will be held in June 2022.
2. Marketing campaign for the city. The candidate have one year to collect more than 80 votes all around the world. Each State has one vote (France is worth as much as the island of Tonga). The winner will be the smarter government, in terms of diplomacy and negotiation skills.
3. Preparation of the city. This phase will take 7 years, in which the city will carry out all the works planned to be ready to host approx. 20 million visitors, to offer them a memorable cultural experience and guarantee a high standard of services and security.
Time to show off
Big events are a unique opportunity for a country to test its ability to organise. The hosting city is obliged to carry out infrastructure works and open more commercial and cultural relations with the world. Citizens will see their city changing and improving the quality of services. The difference is that sport or cultural events last few days or weeks, while a Universal Expo lasts 6 months.
For Ukraine, the stakes are to show to an international audience that it is a reliable country, capable to organise big events and to unify its institutions, companies and citizens around a common project. The choice of Odessa is strategic, because the port city is a fundamental gateway to Ukrainian trade, which needs to build up a closer relation with the capital city. To organise an Expo is a unique opportunity for both the country and the city.
Odesa’s need for infrastructure would seem to be an impediment. In fact, a developing country has more chances than a rich one. The Bureau in Paris tends to favour countries where a Universal Expo could have a bigger cultural and economic impact.
One good example of a victory against all odds is the competition for Expo 2015, where Milan was the winner. The writer of this piece is from Milan and was an eyewitness to that event. Most of the citizens of the Italian city were very pessimistic about the chance to win, including all newspapers and opinion-makers. Our challenger was the Turkish city of Smirne (Izmir). On paper, Turkey was in pole position for the following reasons:
• The high international image of Turkey at that time, as a democratic, secular and peaceful state.
• Turkey was a developing country with the determination to improve its international relations; therefore, it deserved, diplomatically, more support than Italy, an already rich and famous country.
• The geopolitical importance of Turkey as the front-line of the NATO alliance and Europe against dangerous Russia. Therefore, it was politically strategic to keep Turkey closer to the West.
• Finally, an Expo in Turkey was an action of soft power to create more friendly relations with Middle East and Arab countries, after the shocks of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Italy, on the contrary, did not enjoy a very good image in the club of the more developed countries: it was (and is) considered a country not capable of controlling its budget spending and its increasing public debt, with an inefficient public administration, a high degree of corruption, the presence of the mafia in the economy, and the high political instability causing continuous government reshuffles.
Despite the advantages for Turkey and a very aggressive campaign carried out by Turkish diplomacy, Milan won. In March 2008, Smirne received 65 votes and Milan 86.
The win was a surprise, but not a miracle. Victory came as a result of a very skilful marketing campaign, where all the Italian stakeholders worked together as a coordinated team: the Government (with a relevant role played by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the Municipality of Milan, Lombardy region, Italian large companies, and cultural entities (universities, museums, music institutions, associations, etc.).
For Ukraine to win, it will need both the favorable environment described above as well as the unity shown by institutions at every level.
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