Ukraine has challenged Italy, Russia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea to host Expo 2030 in Odessa. It has officially decided to participate in the international competition to host Expo 2030.
Ukraine proposed Odessa 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 work against other competitors.
The critical part of the competition to host an Expo is to obtain the majority of votes from 170 countries belonging to the Bureau des Expositions de Paris. Each member will vote for political and economic reasons. Let’s take a look at the weaknesses of the other challengers:
• Italy has little chance of winning with Rome because the country has already hosted the Milan Expo in 2015. Fifteen years apart is too short to organize the event again in one country.
• Russia and Saudi Arabia are rich and powerful countries, but with a diplomatic deficit. The questionable reputation of their leaders (read Navalny and Khashoggi) will not help them garner votes, as the states that support them will have to explain it to their respective audiences.
• South Korea is behind Japan, where Expo 2025 will be held in Osaka. Another World Expo after 5 years in the same geographic area is highly unlikely, despite South Korea’s good image.
On the diplomatic level, these handicaps place Ukraine in pole position. Of course, Ukraine has its own weakness, concerning the capacities of organization and coordination between political institutions.
A look at the Expo
Let’s briefly explain what Expo is.
The Universal Exhibition (Expo) is a recurring international event, hosted by a city, every 5 years for 6 months.
The first took place in London in 1851. The Expo has become a unique marketing opportunity for a country and for the city. It brings millions of visitors, international investments, tangible (jobs, GDP) and intangible (culture, visibility) benefits. It energizes local businesses and culture and accelerates innovations in public works and services.
A competition to obtain the right to host an Expo is divided into three phases:
1. Preparation of the Application Form (title of the Expo, site, financial plan, infrastructure, city services, partners, cultural plan). The project should show how countries are motivated. Therefore, should be awesome. This phase will reduce the number of applicants from five to two or three cities. The exams will take place in June 2022.
2. Marketing campaign for the city. The candidate has one year to collect more than 80 votes worldwide. 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 negotiating skills.
3. Preparation of the city. This phase will last 7 years, during which the city will carry out all the works planned to be ready to welcome approx. 20 million visitors, to offer them a memorable cultural experience and guarantee a high level of services and safety.
It’s time to show up
Major events are a unique opportunity for a country to test its organizational capacity. The host city is obliged to carry out infrastructure works and to open more commercial and cultural relations with the world. Citizens will see their city evolve and improve the quality of services. The difference is that sporting or cultural events last a few days or weeks, while a universal exhibition lasts 6 months.
For Ukraine, the challenge is to show an international audience that it is a reliable country, capable of organizing major events and uniting its institutions, businesses and citizens around a common project. The choice of Odessa is strategic, because the port city is a fundamental gateway for Ukrainian commerce, which needs to forge closer relations with the capital. Organizing an Expo is a unique opportunity for both the country and the city.
Odessa’s need for infrastructure seems to be an obstacle. In fact, a developing country has more chances than a rich country. The Paris Office tends to favor countries where a World Fair could have a greater cultural and economic impact.
A good example of winning against all odds is the competition for Expo 2015, where Milan was the winner. The author of this play is from Milan and was an eyewitness to this event. Most of the citizens of the Italian city were very pessimistic about the chance of winning, including all the newspapers and opinion makers. Our challenger was the Turkish city of Smirne (Izmir). On paper, Turkey was in pole position for the following reasons:
• Turkey’s high international image at that time as a democratic, secular and peaceful state.
• Turkey was a developing country determined 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 and European alliance against the dangerous Russia. Therefore, it was politically strategic to keep Turkey closer to the West.
• Finally, an Expo in Turkey was a soft power action to create more friendly relations with the Middle East and the 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 most developed countries: it was (and is) considered as a country incapable of controlling its budgetary expenditure and its growing public debt, with an administration ineffective government, a high degree of corruption, the presence of the Mafia in the economy and high political instability causing continued government reshuffles.
Despite the advantages for Turkey and a very aggressive campaign by Turkish diplomacy, Milan won. In March 2008, Smirne obtained 65 votes and Milan 86.
The victory was a surprise, but not a miracle. The victory is the result of a very clever marketing campaign, where all 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, the region of Lombardy, large companies, and cultural entities (universities, museums, musical institutions, associations, etc.).
To win, Ukraine will need both the enabling environment described above and the unity shown by institutions at all levels.