A look behind the scenes of the ASEM Summit

14 October 2014

Posted on 01 Oct 2010

To answer this question, we met up with Régine Vandriessche, Director of the Logistics Team of FPS Foreign Affairs for the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU. She kindly agreed to let us take a look behind the scenes at the ASEM.

Belgium, being the host of the summit, is mobilising all its forces

Since it's the Host State for the summit, Belgium is in charge of the practical, formal and security organisation of the event. This means that numerous public actors are part of the project.

The FPS Foreign Affairs, in the first place, is tasked with guiding its organisation. But also with guiding all the Belgian departments responsible for the security of major events and the protection of VIPs: the Belgian State Security Service (in charge of the protection of threatened VIPs); the services for the analysis of terrorist threats, tasked with determining the level of protection to be applied to the event and to the various VIPs who are participating in it; and the Federal Police, who will supply the escorts.

The Brussels Police will play a central role in this plan, in a dual role: first of all provide information and assistance to the citizens who, in spite of restrictions on access to certain streets and squares in Brussels, must be able to attend to their business; then the establishment and monitoring of a security zone around the premises of the summit.

Europe and Asia meet and start a dialogue

The ASEM Summit brings together the 27 Member States of the EU on the one hand, and on the other hand the majority of the countries in Asia.

The Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Member States of the EU are Brussels “regulars”; they frequent the city several times a year on the occasion of the European Councils. Consequently they have had numerous opportunities to familiarise themselves with Belgian practices in regard to security and formal supervision. From this point of view for them – as for their Embassies in Brussels – participation in the ASEM therefore falls, so to speak, under “routine”. The sole difference being this time they will not be coming together in the building of the Council of the EU.

For a President or a Prime Minister of an Asian country, in contrast, coming to Brussels is anything but routine. For the embassies established in Brussels, this event represents a sizable challenge and requires very extensive preparatory work.
“In concrete terms, for the organisation team and the colleagues in charge of security, this represents a large number of meetings, preliminary tours of the premises of the summit, and hundreds of questions, some of them very detailed. Certain of them sometimes call things into question and make differences in culture or in perception felt,” Régine Vandriessche confides in us.

Anticipate everything… truly everything!

When one coordinates the organisation of such a summit, it is a matter of trying (!) not to forget anything. “What meals will be served to the Heads of State and Government during their stay in Belgium?” Eating habits and customs differ noticeably from one VIP to another. “Should the water be served at room temperature? With or without ice?” Questions having more to do with protocol as well: “beside whom will the head of such a delegation be seated? Beside whom will he be placed during the family photo?” In general, it will be noted that questions of “image” are extremely important.

The furnishings for the premises for the meetings also necessitate the mobilisation of all the talents, within and outside of the FPS Foreign Affairs. Furnishings require choices of furniture and of technical solutions. Concerning the transmission of the debates for example: will large or small screens be used? What type of audio transmission? The infrared system? A different system?

Anyone who says furnishings also says drawing up procurement contracts, with their collection of long, meticulous procedures. It should be noted that the degree of detail in the planning and anticipating phases is already very high!

The organisation of such a meeting also necessitates astute skills concerning coordination. For the furnishing of the premises, for example, it is a matter of making a group of actors (companies, etc.) cohabit. It is necessary at the same time to be the head of the work site, architect, decorator, technician…and remain optimistic under all circumstances!…

When one strolls behind the scenes of the ASEM and thereby becomes aware of the magnitude of the preparations and the discussions to be carried out upstream from this summit, one immediately understands why the organisation of this meeting required 18 months of intensive work! Determining the premises for this meeting, their furnishings; the script of the meeting; taking the time to create the network of necessary contacts; establishing a communication system that guarantees confidence among all the actors concerned by its organisation, in such a way that each person can find a certain pleasure in working toward the best possible unfolding of the Summit.

In the days to come we will continue to allow you a visit “behind the scenes” of the ASEM, in the company of Régine Vandriessche. We will concentrate on a series of specific aspects, details which few people would think about at first glance, which fall under experience but which, each in their own way, guarantee an optimal unfolding of a summit such as the ASEM.