Vladimir Curgus: Serbia-Bulgaria Relations at Historic High
Novinite.com is interviewing ambassadors of Bulgaria's main trading partners as well as neighbouring countries. Here is the interview with Vladimir Curgus, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia in Sofia.
What major bilateral projects are currently in the making?
Serbia and Bulgaria are neighbours, both of them lie along the route linking Southeast Europe and Asia, which makes it logical for infrastructure projects to be always topical. Currently, several projects that link our countries in the transport and energy sectors are either in the implementation phase or in the final stage of preparations for construction.
I’ll mention several of them:
- The Serbian side is expected to complete the construction of its stretch of the Nis-Sofia motorway, (part of the pan-European Transport Corridor 10) by the end of 2016. The Bulgarian side is working on the approach to Sofia (the western arch). The construction of the final link featuring four lanes is expected to begin, which will make road transport in that direction considerably faster and much safer.
- The project for improving the railroad infrastructure along the same transport corridor, together with the electrification of the Nis-Dimitrovgrad railway.
- The construction of the gas interconnection Bulgaria-Serbia.
I should also mention the opening of the new border checkpoint at Novo Korito – Salas. Its construction is already underway. The new border crossing will contribute to the improvement in the links between individuals and businesses in eastern Serbia and northwestern Bulgaria which is of considerable importance for the development of those undeveloped regions along the border.
The implementation of the Cross-border Cooperation Programme is also exceptionally important. Very many projects have been implemented under this programme with the aim of building connections between local governments, the NGO sector and businesses as well as improving the standard of living in the border regions.
Following the completion of the 2007-2013 programme period, in the first half of 2015 we expect to see the new invitation for submitting projects for the 2014-2020 programme period which will focus on improving the standard of living of young people, environment protection and development of the potential for tourism in the regions along the border between Serbia and Bulgaria.
The Embassy of the Republic in Sofia is participating very actively in the promotion of the projects included in this programme and I believe they will generate concrete results.
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges in bilateral relations?
Relations between Serbia and Bulgaria currently are at a historic high and I believe there are no open issues. Should a problem arise, it is being immediately resolved in direct communication between the two countries’ institutions.
There are multiple examples of meetings between representatives of the two states in the previous period and there were meetings at the highest level, the presidential one, last year. I expect this to continue after a new government takes office after October 5 election.
Challenges come from the outside! First, we have the global economic crisis, which has lasted a bit too long and had a negative impact on the two countries’ economies. In addition, a very complex political situation is present in a broader region.
Serbia is targeting full membership of the EU. In this effort, it has Bulgaria’s considerable and earnest support, for which we are very thankful. Our countries are not among the big ones in terms of human, natural and economic resources. This is why we should stick together when trying to win correct treatment of our national interests in the international community.
Where do you see the greatest potential for cooperation and untapped opportunities?
Of course, so far the greatest potential has been found in joint projects for production for the markets of third countries. Serbia has signed a free-trade agreement with countries that are highly interesting markets such as Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey, CEFTA states (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Moldova). On the other side, Bulgaria has an advantage in relation to this market in its capacity as a EU member state.
Cooperation in projects for joint market presentation could reflect very well on the development of production in our countries and help new job openings. We should also mention China as a potential partner in joint projects for the development of infrastructure and agriculture in our region.
Tourism is also an area where a joint action of our two countries would complement our offer and boost the interest of tourist from countries who are not traditional visitors here, for example tourist from Japan, the US, China. All available resources and financial tools, for example the Danube Strategy, should be used for the implementation of such projects.
Cross-border cooperation is another segment that could be developed further. Complete consent about that does exist at state level between Bulgaria and Serbia. The very fact that those regions are the least developed ones on both sides of the border is the most serious challenge for both countries. This is why and we should work together to provide better living conditions in those regions, particularly for young people who leave them in search of jobs, using projects that could be expected to attract even greater financial support from the European Union.
How are Bulgaria and Bulgarians perceived by your compatriots?
The times of tightly-sealed borders are long gone. Our two nations mix together, visit each other. New friendships are being made, people of our two nations marry each other.
I think that data showing annual rise of more than 20% in the number of Bulgarian tourists visiting Serbia speaks well enough about the way Bulgarians are accepted in Serbia. Many Serb tourists visit Bulgaria’s ski centres and Black Sea resorts and what is more important, they return every year, which confirms their satisfaction with the attitude shown by their Bulgarian hosts.
Our two nations are very close – in terms of language, culture, religion, mentality; we are always hospitable and ready to feast with music and good jokes!
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