Vladimir Curgus: Serbia, Bulgaria See Gas Link as Major Tool for Energy Diversification
In an interview for Novinite.com held in June 2016, H.E. Vladimir Curgus, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the Republic of Bulgaria, comments on the state of play in bilateral economic relations, Serbia’s EU accession negotiations as well as the country’s response to the migration crisis in Europe.
Q: How much progress has been achieved in the implementation of the project for the construction of a gas interconnection between Serbia and Bulgaria? Will the expected date of 2019 be met for gas to start flowing through the interconnector?
A: The energy ministries of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Bulgaria maintain a constant contact on the project of building the gas interconnection. The two countries have been in constant agreement about the importance of this project as a perspective both for development of the gas market and diversification of supply to the region.
The Bulgarian side has secured funding from the EU for its section of the pipeline and the main problem remains the financing of the Serbian part of the gas pipeline, which is also expected to be financed through a considerable amount of EU funds. Both sides intensively work together on this issue and it is expected to be resolved in a positive way in the next few months, bearing in mind that the European Commission has repeatedly stressed how important the implementation of this project is.
Technically speaking, both sides are fully prepared to start construction works after the completion of all necessary procedures and in this case the commercial operation of the pipeline could begin in 2019.
Q:Tourism is a sector offering many opportunities to Serbia and Bulgaria. What joint projects have been agreed recently to increase tourist flow in both directions? What have the two Balkan neighbours done to attract visitors to sites for cultural, historical and ecological tourism on both sides of their common border?
A: Tourism is an area of ??economic cooperation between Serbia and Bulgaria, in which the results are very good. There has been a very significant increase in the number of visits of Bulgarian tourists to Serbia and of Serbian tourists to Bulgaria. This trend has been extended into the current year but work has also been done on joint projects.
Projects of cross-border cooperation, in which one of the axes of funding is intended specifically for the development of tourism, need to be particularly highlighted. Cooperation between municipal enterprises "Tourism Sofia" and "Belgrade Tourist Organisation" and cooperation at the level of tour operators from Bulgaria and Serbia will also increase in the coming period. This type of cooperation would complement the offer to tourists from third countries, which is highly essential for the development of this business sector. The Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Sofia played a significant role in connecting interested parties from Serbia and Bulgaria in this area.
Q: What is the state of play in the development of projects for improving the transport infrastructure linking Serbia and Bulgaria? With Serbia aiming to join the EU, which projects of common interest for Belgrade and Sofia have priority for the Serbian government?
A: As regards the transport infrastructure linking Serbia and Bulgaria, the Bulgarian public is generally aware of the intensive work being done in the construction of the motorway linking Nis with the border with the Republic of Bulgaria as well as the presence of Bulgarian holding group Trace among the companies taking part in the construction works.
This section is expected to be fully completed by spring next year. We hope that the Bulgarian side will begin the construction of the Sofia-Kalotina section, including the North Tangent stretch of Sofia beltway, where construction works are ongoing. Also, both sides are working on modernization of railway traffic, which would lead to increased security of operation. With the completion of these projects the traffic of passengers and goods will be made easier, which will undoubtedly contribute to improved business and other relations between the two nations.
Q: What progress has Serbia achieved in EU accession talks over the past year? What political and economic challenges lie ahead? Which challenge will be the toughest one for Serbia?
A: Serbia is in the process of moving closer to EU membership, with negotiation Chapters 32 and 35 opened this year. We expect that Chapters 23 and 24 will be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the EU, which could ensure the continuation of accession talks at the speed expected by our country.
Serbia continues to make significant reforms in its economy in order to reduce the deficit. This activity has been successfully implemented so far, opening a possibility to increase economic growth and market competitiveness. A process of reorganisation of public administration and public enterprises has started, which should ensure their more effective functioning and rationalisation.
Serbia wants to accept all positive norms applicable in the EU in the shortest time possible in the course of the accession process – above all, for the sake of its own development and competitiveness, not only within the EU but also in a broader plan. Of course, this is a process requiring a lot of changes within Serbian society itself and it will not be easy but it is inevitable and generally accepted.
Q: The closing of the Western Balkan migrant route has decreased migratory pressure on Serbia’s border with Macedonia. Do you expect resurgence of migratory pressure on Serbia if the EU-Turkey agreement on migration falls through? Do Serbian authorities expect increased migration flow across the country’s border with Bulgaria?
A: Throughout the refugee crisis, Serbia has cooperated with the EU and all of its neighbours to provide assistance to refugees, respecting all agreements reached within the EU. We expect that Turkey and the EU will respect their agreement and there will be no reopening of the Western Balkan route and massive influx of new migrants.
Bulgaria has already shown that it is able to control its borders and prevent the illegal entry of significant numbers of migrants and I believe this will be the case in the future as well. The joint fight against organised trafficking in migrants has also been stepped up, and we see good and successful cooperation at the level of the ministers of the interior of Serbia and Bulgaria. It is up to the EU countries, which are the ultimate destination of migrants, to build a long-term strategy to address the issue, and Serbia will render maximum support to this process, as it has been doing so far.
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