Dutch Ambassador Tom van Oorschot: Bulgaria Needs to Boost its Reputation as Reliable EU, NATO Ally
Novinite.com is interviewing ambassadors of Bulgaria's main trading partners as well as neighboring countries. Here is an interview with Dutch Ambassador Tom van Oorschot
- What major bilateral projects are currently in the making?
As you know, the Netherlands attaches great importance to the Rule of Law, based on accountability, responsibility and transparency. We consider a reliable judicial system a cornerstone of our society on national, European and international level. The Netherlands is one of the few countries with a provision in the national constitution saying that promoting the development of the international legal order is an obligation of the government.
Since member states of the EU are intensively interlinked, we have to be able to rely on each other judicial system. That’s why the Netherlands has always been critical on judicial systems in EU-member states, including Bulgaria. Although we are critical on the one hand, we provide cooperation, exchange of experiences and assistance in judicial reform on the other hand. That’s the Dutch approach. A few examples:
We have an intense programme for police cooperation between Bulgaria and the Netherlands. Just a few months ago, we have finalized a project aimed at improving the integrity and the ethical standards of the Bulgarian Police. The ethical attitude towards the society improves the image of the police.
We support the Bulgarian Judges Association in their strive for an effective and independent judiciary. This project is very close to my heart, because I strongly believe that a completely independent functioning judiciary, without any political involvement, forms the basis for a modern, accountable society. It provides predictability and security to the citizens and the businesses community. Furthermore we have a framework for cooperation between the offices of the Public Prosecutor.
A few other areas of fruitful bilateral cooperation: labor migration, the fight against human trafficking, the problem of refugees, protection of human rights, and of course economy and agriculture. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Agriculture Mr. Vasil Grudev and I signed a co-operation programme, aimed at streamlining the exchange of knowledge and experiences in a number of areas, like the Common Agricultural Policy and the greenhouse vegetable growing. This is the third cooperation programme in the sector since 2004, showing our longstanding commitment.
Innovation, sustainable development and green technologies have been in the Dutch focus for many years. My country has gained enormous experience, which we gladly share with our international partners. In 2013 we organized a Green City Day in Sofia, where the Government Architect of the Netherlands and Urban developers shared innovative ideas and best practices. We are organizing a similar event in Burgas in late November this year.
Last but not least, the cultural field. The extremely talented Bulgarian concertmaster and first violinist of the world famous Royal Concertgebouworchestra of Amsterdam, Vesko Eschkenazy, organizes with our support a unique performance of the chamber orchestra of the Concertgebouw on May 8th 2015 in Sofia (in the NDK) for a large audience.
You will hear from Vesko himself soon.
- How are Bulgaria and Bulgarians perceived by your compatriots?
Unfortunately, Bulgaria is not well known in the Netherlands. Most of the Dutch are not familiar with the beautiful nature of this country, the rich ancient history and culture, the friendly and hospitable people, the talented musicians and artists, the delicious wines and food, the tasty agricultural products, the enormous intellectual, economic, agricultural, cultural, touristic potential of this country.
In general only negative news reaches my compatriots, like reports about fraud with the Dutch social benefit system and corruption. This of course does not represent the complete picture. Therefore they often get a distorted image of Bulgaria.
- Where do you see the greatest potential for cooperation and untapped opportunities?
I try to paint a balanced and positive picture of your country because I think your people deserve it. Bulgaria has plenty of comparative advantages: a lot of unused land, cheap but skilled labor force, stable financial situation, favorable corporate taxes, a safe environment etc. For that reason, I want to attract more Dutch small and medium sized companies to invest in Bulgaria.
It is my ambition - but it should also be Bulgarians ambition - to promote Bulgaria’s potential abroad. I see a lot of opportunities. But it requires a vision for the future, a consistent policy and strategy, and above all a stable political environment and an optimistic view. I am sure in this way Bulgaria could attract a lot of investments and benefit from an accelerated economic growth.
- What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges in bilateral relations?
I believe the real challenge is to put Bulgaria higher on the agenda, as a reliable EU and NATO ally. Both our countries should work actively to create more mutual trust and understanding. Bulgaria needs to promote itself and show its positive sides. To be honest, it all starts with a healthy and reliable political climate based on accountability, responsibility and transparency.
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