“We risk the EU’s stability if we do not strengthen the Balkans”

BUL-ARP_0073

 

Photo: AR

 

Ivan Kondov / Bulgaria’s Ambassador

 

Alberto Rubio. 09/04/2018

 

Ten years after becoming a member of the EU, “Bulgaria is today an island of stability in the Balkans”, Ivan Kondov affirms. “Bureaucracy and corruption have been reduced, and European laws have been introduced into all aspects of life”, Bulgaria’s Ambassador, who has already crossed the halfway point of his community Presidency, points out.

 

To which extent is the Brexit marking your presidency?

We are committed to respect the deadlines of negotiations and we completely support the main negotiator, Michel Barnier. We have an intense calendar of meetings and we are working with a spirit of transparency in close collaboration with the European institutions to defend the interests of the European citizens.

 

Which goals are set?

“Strength comes in numbers” is Bulgaria’s motto, which is in our state badge. In the EU we believe in the same: a united and solidary Europe. Our objective is to achieve real results applying the principles of transparency, accountability and open Presidency for the citizens, promoting partnership at all levels on the basis of an integral approach.

 

In which fields?

We have four priority fields that involve reforms key to the Common Agricultural Policy, the Economic and Monetary Union; more security in outer borders; efficient management of immigration; establishment of the basis of a Defense Alliance; the stability and connectivity of the Western Balkans; and the financing of the Single Digital Market.

 

Why is it so important for Europe to look to the Balkans?

Because, whereas in the EU there is certain fatigue regarding the extension, pessimism is extending in the countries of the region, especially among the youngest ones. We have to work with and for the Western Balkans to ratify their place in the EU, strengthening the motivation of leaders and citizens to carry out pro-European reforms. Otherwise, we risk the reappearance of many threats to the EU’s stability.

 

What do you expect from the Summit of 17 May?

The confirmation of the strategic message of the European prospect for the Western Balkans. With Serbia and Montenegro, we hope to negotiate new chapters during our Presidency. Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia could soon meet the conditions to start negotiations. We would like for the EC to make a recommendation in its favor. Bulgaria would advocate connecting the financing of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) with the results of its reforms, especially in fields essential for stability such as Justice and Interior.

 

What contribution can Spain make to the Presidency?

We share similar stances on many matters and we are cooperating. Spain is a great ally and its help is important to our Presidency. Bulgaria is also willing to consider issues of particular sensitivity for Spain. Furthermore, we thank Spain for its continuous support to Bulgaria’s membership to the Schengen Area and the Eurozone.

 

How can we improve our economic relations?

By improving our mutual knowledge. Bulgaria is a stranger to Spain. The 50 years of isolation that we spent prevent the opportunities offered by Bulgaria from being known. Bulgaria is a European space with all the guarantees for the companies, but in the other extreme of the continent.

 

What appeal does it offer to investors?

I give it five reasons: The first one is our political and economic stability that has allowed a sustained growth in the last three years (in 2017, 3.6%), a low budgetary deficit and public debt, and a strict monetary control. The second one is that we have the lowest labor costs of the EU (10% of the corporate tax and 10% of the Income Tax) as well as favorable office rent and low costs of public services. The third one is that our state is a proactive partner that has introduced several incentives: reduction of social security contributions, tax benefits, return of expenses for vocational training and many more, depending on the area in which one invests. The fourth is that we have highly qualified professionals: 25% of the population has a university diploma and 46% speaks at least one foreign language. The fifth, our access to markets of the European Union, Russia, Turkey and the Middle East.

 

What does Bulgaria offer to attract tourism from other countries?

An excellent combination of climate, history, leisure and culture. Bulgaria has 40,000 monuments, of which 11 are Cultural World Heritage. We offer excellent conditions for cultural and religious tourism. But also for nature and spa tourism, since we have a wide range of thermal waters with 1,600 springs, whose use goes back to “the sacred springs of Thrace”, as they were known by the entire Roman Empire. And, especially, we offer security, good communications and a very professional service to tourists.

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