The Bureau International des Expositions (International Exhibitions Bureau) was established by a diplomatic international Convention, signed in Paris,in 1928. Its function is to regulate the frequency and quality of exhibitions falling within its remit.
This may simply be defined as covering all international exhibitions of a non-commercial nature (other than fine art exhibitions) with a duration of more than three weeks, which are officially organised by a nation and to which invitations to other nations are issued through diplomatic channels. The BIE is therefore not concerned with trade fairs and indeed the degree of commercial activity carried out at BIE exhibitions is carefully regulated.
Why does the BIE exist?
The first International Exhibition is generally considered to have been that held in London in 1851.
The success of this event produced many highly successful exhibitions throughout the world. For example, the Paris Exhibition of 1889 is well remembered for the creation of the Eiffel Tower.
But as the number of these events increased, it became clear that some measures were needed to control the frequency and quality of exhibitions. The 1928 Convention on International Exhibitions established the BIE and set out simple rules, which restricted the number of exhibitions which could be held and defined their characteristics. The original 1928 Convention has been amended by various additional protocols, but the basic framework of that Convention is still valid today.
How does the BIE work ?
The Secretariat General of the BIE, which is located in Paris, is headed by the Secretary General. The French Foreign Office carries out formal diplomatic relationships for the BIE.
Membership to the BIE -- currently comprising 140 nations -- is open to any Government by accession to the 1928 Convention and the 1972 Protocol on International Exhibitions. An annual fee is charged on a sliding scale based on United Nations principles on such contributions. However, a substantial part of the BIE's income derives from the registration fees for staging exhibitions and from a percentage of the gate money raised for that exhibition.
General Assemblies of the BIE are held twice a year in Paris under the chairmanship of the elected President of the BIE. These meetings are attended by all member states and by observers. Delegates review applications for new projects and consider reports from those exhibitions in a more advanced state. They are also attentive to reports by the four Committees, which supervise appropriate aspects of the BIE's activities. The Executive Committee assesses new projects and exercises an overview on the different aspects of exhibitions, while the Rules Committee is concerned with the detailed documentation and technical provisions of exhibitions as well as the internal rules of the BIE.
The Administration and Budget Committee and the Information and Communication Committee complete this structure. Each of the four Committees has a Chairman, who at the same time is a Vice President of the BIE, and a Vice Chairman. These eight members form a controlling body which assesses the activities of the BIE as a whole in preparation for the summer and winter General Assemblies. Committee members are elected by the General Assembly.
The registration of exhibitions
Controlling not only the frequency and quality of exhibitions but, in particular, also the conditions of participation for international participants is a continuous process carried out by the B.I.E. from the inception of a project to its close. There are three main steps an exhibition must follow in order to achieve the essential registration. Following the first formal nomination of a new project, which must specify the date of opening and closing, the theme and the legal status of the organising body, a BIE preliminary enquiry missioncarries out an on-the-spot assessment of the project. Led by a Vice President of the BIE, the enquiry team is able to request detailed information of a technical and financial nature to assist it and documentary evidence is examined.
This thorough research is the basis for a report, which is submitted to the Executive Committee for consideration and subsequently to the General Assembly for approval. If the project is successful in achieving support from these bodies, the Assembly will decide by secret balloton the "allocation of the date", that is the election of the candidate country which will host the next exhibition.
The third and final process is the registration of the exhibition on the basis of the formal review and acceptance of the General Regulations and Draft Participation Contract by the Assembly. The completion of the registration procedure (which may take three years) is marked by the awarding of the BIE flag.
This is also the point at which the Government may commence despatching invitations through diplomatic channels to other nations to participate in the event. Without registration, an exhibition cannot seek the support of the BIE Member States, which are in fact prohibited from participating in any event, which could violate the BIE Convention. Registration indicates the solemn acceptance by the host Government of its responsibility to apply and maintain the BIE's rules.By this process, the future development of international exhibitions is protected and the interests of the member states maintained.
During an exhibition, the BIE maintains its control function through the College of Commissioners General who are the representatives of a participating Government at the exhibition and an elected Steering Committee, which maintains a close liaison not only with the exhibition organisers but with the BIE.
Different categories of exhibitions
From the earliest date, the BIE has accepted the need to differentiate between two categories of exhibitions: major events which last for six months and with a theme of a general nature and shorter, more economical events, where the theme is more precise and specialised.
The two categories of exhibitions and their distinctive characteristics are as follows (more information www.bie-paris.org) :
International Registered Exhibition (or World Exhibition)
Frequency : every five years
Duration : 6 months at most
Area : not restricted
Theme : general (cf. General classification for International exhibitions)
International Recognised Exhibition
Frequency : during the interval between two International Registered Exhibitions
Duration : 3 months at most
Area : 25 ha at most
Theme : specialized
This type of event could give all nations the possibility of hosting an international exhibition.
The BIE will also continue to recognise those Horticultural Exhibitions such as the Netherlands Floriade 2002 and IGA 2003 Rostock in Germany, recommended to it by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH), and the Milan Triennale, an exhibition of long standing featuring the decorative arts.
Since 1928 the BIE's work has been dedicated to identifying and refining the role of those exhibitions within its concern as a means of promoting international goodwill and of exploring the limits of human experience and knowledge.