Henriette Van Lynden: The Opportunities are in Bulgaria
Baroness Van Lynden answered questions of Martina Iovcheva
Q: How has the world changed a year after September 11th?
A: I think that the tragic events of September 11th, last year, made people aware how vulnerable societies and democracies are. This, however, strengthened our resolve to preserve and develop our fundamental beliefs in justice and human rights, and our commitment to defend these. I think that our democratic societies, open and intertwined as they are, have come to realise that the only way to effectively do that is to fully co-operate with each other.
Q: What is the role of a small country like Bulgaria in the combat with terrorism?
A: In a world so closely knit, the contribution of every country, big or small, is a prerequisite for effectively fighting terrorism. Bulgaria is standing firm on this issue, and has given full support to international anti-terrorist efforts.
Q: What do you consider the most important contribution to the development of the Dutch -Bulgarian relations during your mandate so far?
A: The Netherlands and Bulgaria are close partners with respect to the Bulgarian aspirations to become a NATO and EU-member. In February this year, our Ministers of Foreign Affairs reached an agreement on thematic partnerships, thus further facilitating the already well established bilateral co-operation in the framework of the EU pre-accession efforts of Bulgaria. Co-operation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs, Agriculture, and Finance will be further intensified in the short term.
Q: How big are Bulgaria's chances to get an exact date for EU accession at the Copenhagen summit?
A: An exact date for EU-accession is linked to Bulgaria's progress in adapting and implementing legislation and in complying with the other Copenhagen criteria. Bulgaria's progress is encouraging, it has made the process of accession irreversible. All these elements will be taken into account at the Copenhagen Summit.
Q: The most important foreign policy event for Bulgaria this year is the NATO meeting in Prague. In your opinion how big are the chances of the country to get an invitation to join the Alliance? How do you assess Bulgaria's contributions to NATO and eventually its future role as NATO member?
A: Bulgaria has shown its unreserved commitment to NATO-membership, both in terms of adapting its defense and security structures, as well as assuming international responsibilities in preserving peace and stability in the region. Its stance during recent crises (Kosovo, the aftermath of September 11th ) was exemplary.
The Netherlands is an advocate of the "Open Door"-policy for countries which want to join NATO. An enlarged Alliance, as an organisation has to keep its house in order and see to it that this effectiveness and readiness remains guaranteed. Each Aspiring State should be capable of fulfilling the obligations, inherent to membership of the Alliance. All these elements will be evaluated in Prague and we have to await the outcome.
Q: Do you think that the Bulgarian government is on the right track? What would you advise the Cabinet? In which areas can Bulgaria tap the Dutch experience?
A: The Bulgarian Government has clear and focused objectives, outlined in various strategies, such as the reform of the judiciary and combating corruption. Of course, NATO and EU-accession efforts play a pivotal role in Government policy. The ultimate goal of these efforts is the well-being of the individual Bulgarian citizen.
The rate of success of any government is ultimately judged by its own citizens: "Is my government improving my social-economic situation?", "Does it provide security and protection against crime and is it combating corruption effectively.
Part of the secret of success of any Government in an open society is its link with the individual citizens: making them part of the process, sharing responsibilities and having open and clear lines of communications with them. The Netherlands and Bulgaria are co-operating in the field of public information. My country actively supports the role of civil society in Bulgaria.
Q: How would you assess the business environment for Dutch investors in Bulgaria today? What are its weakest points?
A: The business environment in Bulgaria has seen sizeable positive developments over the years. Bureaucracy, corruption, and inadequate infrastructure services are adverse factors in the investment decisions of any potential foreign investor.
The fact that this Government has put fighting corruption high on its agenda is a promising sign to the business community.
Dutch companies -internationally oriented as they are- make investment decisions on the basis of international comparisons of opportunities, looking for an optimal balance between risks and revenues, and -most importantly- a level-playing field in the proposed country of operation. We do encourage Dutch firms to come to Bulgaria, as the opportunities are here.
Q: What are your impressions from Bulgaria so far? Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?
A: I love travelling and visiting places all over the country, very often connected with some sort of Dutch-Bulgarian activity. I think that Beauty, Resources and Opportunities, should be the focus of Bulgaria's PR, at the same time underlining the importance of its regional geographical position. Further improvement of infrastructure is urgently needed. This would of course lead to more regional co-operation enhancing stability in South East Europe and increasing economic growth in this country.
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