How is the Milan Expo doing?
L'albero della vita - Expo 2015 - Milano

In her latest article for OneEurope, our contributor Mirea Cartabbia discusses some of the controversies around the Expo Milan 2015. Hailed by government officials as a tremendous success drawing in large numbers of visitors, the Expo has sparked significant criticism amid serious corruption allegations and concerns over costs overruns and delays.

The Universal Exhibition 2015, best known as EXPO, is currently taking place in Milan. Since the theme of Expo Milan 2015 is 'Feeding the planet, Energy for life', this was supposed to be not only a place to enjoy food, but also a space open to productive discussions about nutrition and resources between the 145 participating countries.

The event was envisaged to be a great opportunity for Italy to boost its international standing and to attract more visitors into the country, thus improving its economic outlook.  The statistics  recently presented by  Giuseppe Sala, the Commissioner  of the Government of Italy for Expo Milan 2015, seemed to support this view, showing that in the month of May alone there was an incredible number of visitors - more than 3 million. Is this really true though?

The honest answer to this question is that no one can know anything officially because, even if it seems incredible, there is an embargo over the Expo database. The number of daily admissions is secret, the number of sold subway tickets (the subway is the easiest way of transportation to reach the exhibition) is secret and an unknown amount of food is wasted or thrown away everyday even though organisations such as Caritas have repeatedly asked to collect it.

Just a few days ago, the Italian newspaper Il FattoQuotidiano managed to get access to one of Expo’s classified documents and found out that, despite the optimistic words of Commissioner Sala, who said that the opening month was a success, the actual entries to the exhibition were with up to 900.000 people lower than the estimated number.

This situation clearly shows that at least some of the concerns of the No-Expo movement were justified. After the sad ending of the protest in Milan on the 1st of May, when around 500 Black Bloc infiltrated the peaceful demonstration and destroyed the city, the movement started to be associated with the Black Bloc's behavior and their complaints against the exhibition were quickly forgotten. But it is increasingly looking like the No-Expo movement was right to voice concern about the Expo.


The No-Expo have some arguments that can be defined as ethical. The waste of food is one of the key concerns they raised, but there are many other reasons to question the sustainability and ethical ethos of the Expo. For example, two of the main sponsors of the event are Coca Cola and McDonald’s, two multinational companies that can hardly be associated with a healthy lifestyle. In regards to food, another issue is that no insects can be eaten at the Expo. This is an interesting or even perplexing decision , especially considering that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believed that the Expo will showcase the “food of the future”, which many believe to be insects. Even if the EXPO website mentions that it’s possible to eat them, the Italian Health Department has not given them permission, therefore there is only a small exhibition about the topic Insect as food.

Then there are other reasons connected with the bad and corrupted work ethic that underpinned the construction of the building of the exhibition. This interesting article from the Guardian gives a good overview of the situation. Just to give an example, it’s rather difficult to explain why the entire site was covered by a foundation slam at the cost of €224m, mysteriously up by €60m from the original cost. Secondly, the land where the site was built belonged to private owners and its value was worth circa 8-12€ per square meter before the price made an incredible jump, to 160€ per square meter.

In spite of all of that, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is very positive and he really believes that Expo can showcase the value of Italy. Just a few days ago he said that “EXPO is not a commercial exhibition but an ideal” and “With Expo we celebrate at the same time both diversity and unity of humanity”.