In November 2017 a handful of countries competing for the EXPO 2025 paraded at the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). Many of the themes focused on future technologies (innovation for Ekaterinburg, Russia, 5.0 society for Osaka, Japan and knowledge for Greater Paris, France), whereas Baku turned the spotlight on human capital.
Azerbaijan’s First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva highlighted that her country aimed at putting “the world’s most powerful resource” at the centre of the universal debate. She further explained that the proposed sub-themes “Talent, Vitality and Achievement” are in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Highlighting that her country was a significant energy and transport hub at the crossroads of European and Asian civilisations, Ms. Aliyeva stressed that it would be a good fit for the EXPO 2025 on the accounts of its ancient history, its geographical location, its high security, its growing infrastructure, its accessibility, its rich cuisine and hospitality.
Being the host city of the European Grand Prix of the F1 race in 2016, Baku has significant experience in hosting international events. It will be also hosting its own Grand Prix until 2025 as well as the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.
Among 170 BIE Member States, only 18 have hosted a World Expo so far. Since the first Expo, which took place in London in 1851, mostly Western countries (some of them on several occasions) have been organising the prestigious event. With the exception of Japan and China, no Asian country has hosted the universal EXPO so far. If elected, Azerbaijan would be the first country in the whole region of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and the Caspian to host the Universal Exhibition.
Other candidates competing for the Expo 2025, such as France and Japan, already hosted the Universal Exhibition. Paris held the 1937 World Expo, as well as five historical World Expos between 1855 and 1900. France has also organised three specialised and horticultural Expos in Paris, Lyon and Lille between 1947 and 1969. Furthermore, Paris was chosen as host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics as well as the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Osaka, on the other hand, was selected for the World Expo in 1970 while being home to many specialised Expos in 1975, 1985, 2005. Moreover, Japan will be hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
Like Baku, Ekaterinburg has never hosted an Expo in the past. The fourth largest city in Russia lost the race for Expo 2020 against the UAE due to various reasons, such as lack of experience in organising major events and difficulty of access. The other two candidates Japan and France have prior experience in such organisations but may find their hands tied up because of, inter alia, their Olympic commitments in 2020 and 2024 respectively.
More importantly, Baku is the only capital city in this competition putting at the disposal of visitors an Expo site in the proximity of its centre. According to plans, a 200-hectare urban park is to be constructed between two growing suburbs in the east of the city as an extension to it. By contrast, the Greater Paris project is situated in Saclay, which is 18 kilometres away from Versailles.
Another criterion to play a crucial role for the selection of candidates, will be the financing of the project. The French government, preoccupied with the costs of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, has already voiced its reservations to back the bid of the Greater Paris for the Expo 2025 in the absence of auto-financing. Same concerns might be valid for Japan, which may see Expos less profitable and less popular than Olympic Games, which are widely followed via TV broadcasting. By contrast, the Azerbaijani Vice-President Aliyeva made it clear during her presentation that her government is fully behind the country’s bid.
Time is short and tensions are building in the run-up to the Election Day in November 2018. Candidate countries are getting ready for their final presentations, after which their Expo journey will be decided by a secret ballot. In order for the Expo to be truly universal and to reflect the diversity of its member countries, the 170 BIE delegates should keep in mind the principle of inclusivity, diversity and representativity in the selection process, in order to engage with a wide range of countries in the future.
In this light, I believe that Azerbaijan with its strong credentiels and its award-winning pavilions, which were among the most popular ones in terms of number of visits during the last three Expos in Milan, Antalya and Astana, should be given a chance to become the first Caucasus country to ever host the World Exhibition in 2025.
(Assoc. Prof. Ceyhun OSMANLI is a former MP of Azerbaijan and board member of Odlar Yurdu University in charge of international relations and innovations.)