Ursula Seiler - Albring: Germany is Bulgaria's Friend En Route to NATO
H.E. Ursula Seiler - Albring answered questions of Martina Iovcheva
Q: What is the general mood in Germany after the devastating floods? How do the people in the floods hit regions live now?
A: Let me start with what is positive first. These days the German society established a great solidarity that went beyond all expectations. We accepted with gratitude the aid and the proposals for assistance from foreign countries, among which is also Bulgaria.
All over Germany there is the common opinion that huge national efforts are necessary to manage the huge economic damages and that many things need to be reconstructed again.
The people in the affected regions, many of whom have lost everything, are in a very serious situation. As far as I can follow things from Sofia, the mood "we'll succeed together, we have to set ourselves to work, we do not have other alternatives" is predominant. That is indicative about the hard situation of the affected people.
Q: How will Germany overcome the floods crisis and how will it finance the cleanup?
A: The federal government announced that it would postpone the planned tax reform to have the financial freedom to get along with the damages deriving from the floods. What makes us especially glad is that not only the federal government and provinces, districts and municipalities but also the European Union joins in financial efforts. Federal aid of EUR 3,43 B and EUR 3,67 B comes from the provinces, districts and municipalities in the newly founded fund by the federal government "Aid for construction." In this sum, the funds from EU are not included, which means that for the time being we can rely on EUR 10 B urgent aid and assistance for reconstruction. That is highly impressive.
Q: Gerhard Schroeder's government faces a general election this autumn following a difficult period of economic problems and poor results in local elections. What are the results from the latest polls? What are your forecasts, are there chances of Schroeder's challenger the premier of Bavaria Edmund Stoiber to replace him?
A: The competition is still entirely open, the latest polls reveal. It is now that the pre-election fight enters in its decisive stage. The last polls show that the Christian Democrats are doing quite well. Simultaneously, the majority of voters say they would prefer Gerhard Schroeder to remain Chancellor. It will be also a matter of coalition negotiations, which party or which parties will form the new government. These negotiations will most probably be necessary, which explains why a serious prognosis is impossible at the moment. The elections night of September 22 will definitely be interesting.
Q: Are there common problems that Bulgaria and Germany after its reunification face and how do you think these problems could be solved?
A: Yes, really there are common problems and challenges that Bulgaria and Germany face. That is so since a big part of my country, i.e. the five new federal provinces, shares the fate of your country and has to manage with the legacy of decades of communism. Simultaneously, the entire country faces the challenges in front of the entire world. The privatization of the former "people's" enterprises was not an easy process in Germany either. The people, living in the new provinces had to manage with the change in life conditions. Many are now unemployed. Also, in Germany, there is a trend that young people are leaving the villages and are starting their lives in towns and cities. That shows that as for the structural problems, the challenges that Bulgaria and Germany face are similar. A significant factor for the improvement of the economic situation is the attraction of new foreign investors. That is not an easy task, competition is cruel. However, if there are attractive proposals, something could be achieved.
Q: Reinhard Schweppe said during a visit to Sofia that Germany sympathizes with Bulgaria in its efforts to join NATO but the government in Berlin still hasn't decided how many countries it would back at the Prague summit this autumn. How big do you think are our country's chances to receive an invitation for NATO membership at the summit in Prague?
A: It is clear that the decision for accession of new partners to the Alliance will be taken in Prague. In that sense, things depend on whether the necessary preparation for such an accession had been made. Bulgaria can look back and see a successfully passed route. By the way, Germany has intensively committed itself to be a close friend of your country as far as this issue is concerned.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles that German investors face in doing business in Bulgaria? What are the factors that could attract more foreign investments to our country?
A: One can see the following in the entire world: foreign investors should be courted very persistently; they need to have the sense that they are welcome. That should be felt of course in everyday work. The Bulgarian government is pointing out serious improvements in certain fields as for example combat with corruption, judicial reform, attracting of investors, decentralization as important in its work. There is no doubt that in these fields there are certain things that need to be improved. From my experience, I believe that the guarantee for legal security is of top importance for the investors. That is a very important issue and that explains why efforts for significant reforms in the judicial system are of extreme importance.
Q: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg has said that 2006 was a realistic date for Bulgaria's EU accession. Analysis of Deutsche bank forecast though that Bulgaria will join the EU in 2008 the earliest. What do you think is the most realistic date for Bulgaria's EU accession?
A: As you know, EU accession is not a matter of declaring that. What is most important in the case is the candidate country - and this is in its own interest - to have completed all criteria for accession. That is what matters, a specific deadline is not decisive. Consequently the accession moment depends on the success and the realization of the accession negotiations, not vice versa. Bulgaria's balance in that respect is impressive. Bulgaria is currently adapting its legislation to the EU norms. Let me mention here - pars pro toto - the experts of the twining projects, who come from Germany and work in Bulgarian institutions to support Bulgaria's accession efforts. I am sure that the approved by the Bulgarian government acceleration strategy will not only help to adopt the EU laws, the so-called acquis, but also to apply them. That is why the role of the administration's and economy's preparation for the future is of extreme importance for the everyday use of the EU legal norms.
The EU accession negotiations are top priority for the Bulgarian government. The negotiations are getting forward successfully although there are still difficult chapters ahead.
Another important task is, I mention that from our personal experience in Germany, to clarify and explain to the society the importance and the significance of the EU accession process. That is so since the EU membership contains one particular challenge, i.e. transferring the national sovereignty to a European level. That should be communicated to the citizens so that they are able to identify themselves in the future in a parallel way as "citizens of Europe| as well as Bulgarians. That relates both to Bulgaria and Germany.
Q: In what fields cooperation between Germany and Bulgaria should be further enhanced and how do you think this could be achieved?
A: Intensive exchange between the two countries takes place on all levels. There is hardly a week without at least one visit of a German delegation to Bulgaria. I am happy that this has to do primarily with the economic sector. In this respect, the German federal provinces develop a variety of activities. I am also happy with the density of the cooperation in the cultural and education fields. It is very important to me that new partnerships emerge and that respectively old partnerships between German and Bulgarian municipalities and towns are reinstated. Some function in a perfect way, others still need to be revitalized. That is a perfect opportunity for local representatives to conduct intensive exchange of experience, which is interesting exactly with partners from the former Federal Republic of Germany. On the other hand, however, this is an opportunity for personal meetings.
Q: Do you expect visits of high-ranking German officials to Bulgaria?
A: As I already said and this is also shown on the news at novinite.com, there is a constant flow of responsible representatives on state, economic and cultural levels. During the days of our national holiday, which is on October 3, 2002, Mr. Schwanhold, minister of economy of the largest federal province Nordrhein-Westfalen will visit Bulgaria with a large economic delegation. In the weeks after, the beginning of establishment of contacts with the new federal government starts, no matter who will form it.
Q: What do you think should be changed so that Bulgarians too have the self-confidence of Europeans?
A: There is no doubt that Bulgaria is an old European country with important impulses for the common European development. The strong national identity, which is present in Bulgaria, does not contradict with the sense to feel oneself European. Bulgaria has the full reasons to join with confidence to uniting Europe.
Of course, technical decisions are important. I myself find the freedom to travel in the Schengen area after April 10 2001 as one very important, very big stride, which finally gave opportunity to the Bulgarian Europeans to be able to pay visits to other Europeans without waiting and problems. That was an extremely important step to be able to feel as citizens of Europe.
Q: What is Bulgaria's image in Germany?
A: Unfortunately many people in Germany still know a little about Bulgaria. That, however, changes fast, to which on the one hand the EU accession contributes, on the other hand - the tourism boom. Bulgaria turns into a favourite tourist destination for many German families, which by the way makes me very happy. Of course, Germans are associating Bulgaria, which is very nice, with a wonderful cuisine - firstly the perfect Bulgarian wine, yoghurt but also the wonderful fruits and vegetables.
Q: What are the most acute differences between the Bulgarian and German people?
A: Honestly, I cannot think of big differences. That is a result of the common European culture and history. Of course, here we are situated in the Southeastern part of our continent. Due to the climate, life in Bulgaria takes place to a bigger degree in the public space than in Germany and I enjoy that. However there are no big differences.
Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?
A: A country where I live and work with pleasure. The reason for that, though, are more than three factors.
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