H.E. Alejandro Polanco Mata: Spain’s Infrastructure Development Model can be a Helpful Example for Bulgaria #AmbassadorTalks
Happy Spanish National Day!
¡Feliz Día de la Hispanidad!
How deeply did the COVID-19 pandemic affect relations between Spain and Bulgaria? What can Bulgarian entrepreneurs learn from their Spanish colleagues? And does Bulgaria have a strong international brand, according to the Spanish ambassador?
The answers to these questions and more are covered in our interview with H.E. Alejandro Polanco Mata.
It is an honor to have Mr. Mata as a guest in our series #AmbassadorTalks on a very special day for the Spanish people – The National Day of Spain!
Find out what are the three characteristics that a Spaniard expects from their business counterpart. And what does the Ambassador think of Bulgaria's progress in the technology sector?
1. What is your opinion on the bilateral political and business relations between Bulgaria and your country?
Bilateral relations between Bulgaria and Spain are currently excellent. There is a very good dialogue at the political level between the two administrations with emphasis on European issues of security and education. In this sense, the visit of the President of the Republic to Madrid this year has been a very important push for the relationship and has allowed direct contacts at the highest level that reinforce the friendship between the two countries. On the occasion of this visit, a business forum was held in which priority areas of common interest in economic matters have been identified, including defense, green economy and transport, both by road and by rail. Spain has a long history in some of these areas and can be a reference for Bulgarian development in these sectors. Indeed, in our case the energy mix has a very important weight of green energies both wind and solar and Spain is one of the largest countries worldwide in the development of infrastructure and high-speed rail transport, having the largest network in Europe and the second in the world, after China. Spanish investment in Bulgaria has had good news this past year with the inclusion of new companies in the metal processing sector such as Gestamp, or in the IT management sector. All this adds to a long tradition of Spanish companies installed in Bulgaria that supply the Balkan region with manufactured products that constitute an export pole to Europe from socially disadvantaged regions like Roca, Keros or Atusa. This produces an excellent combination of social support and business competitiveness.
2. What kind of improvement of these relations do you see in the near future and also long term?
Relations between Spain and Bulgaria are extremely rich and have a great density in political, economic and cultural aspects. On the one hand, there are important sectors where we have common interests mainly in the area of EU competencies. But in the long term and in the future, I see more and more potential for relationship in two sectors of the bilateral relationship that will be increasingly important - the economy and education sectors. The presence of a Bilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Educational Matters is allowing the expansion in Bulgaria of the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language, above other more traditional languages in this country. This is not a surprise, since it goes hand in hand with the growing interest in the Spanish language around the world which makes us one of the first most demanded languages to study by foreigners. It is also not unrelated to the fact that in Spain there is an important Bulgarian community that knows our culture, our language, our customs and this greatly facilitates the relationship. Secondly, the growth potential of the bilateral economic relationship is enormous. Spanish companies installed in Bulgaria have a high level of acceptance and development of productive investments, beneficial for both countries. On the other hand, Spain's infrastructure development model, currently one of the best in Europe both in roads and rail, can be an excellent model for Bulgarian development. We are also a country with diverse geographical regions and difficult terrains which we have been able to overcome in order to achieve the integration of the territories. That is why I believe there is also significant room for improvement in the economic sector.
3. In your humble opinion, what is the place of Bulgaria in the modern world?
Bulgaria has a predominant role in Eastern Europe. Its geographical situation defines very clear geostrategic parameters. The consolidation of the Balkans as a region of development and stability is essential for the EU. On the other hand, it constitutes one of the EU's external borders to the Middle East. That makes Bulgaria very much aware of the political and economic balances that the relationship with extra-communitarian neighbors demands. On the other hand, Bulgaria has an extraordinarily capable and prepared youth in the mathematical and computer sectors that are currently a strategic reference for development. I am sure that the country's progress in the short and medium term in the technology sector will become a benchmark for Europe.
4. If you want to promote Bulgaria to investors from your country, what would be the 5 most important advantages you would mention?
The promotion of Bulgaria's advantages for Spanish investors is the responsibility of the Bulgarian administration and of my colleague in Madrid. I work mainly in the promotion of Spanish comparative advantages for the Bulgarian market. However, I cannot be indifferent to the potential and advantages that this country currently offers for foreign investment. I believe that the most important comparative advantages correspond to Bulgaria's membership of the EU, which gives it a framework of stability and positive macroeconomic indices, a low level of labor costs compared to other European countries and a great deal of access to the Community area which adds to a proximity to other regions, with a very important potential demand for goods and services. To all this is added a population prepared both technically and in its vocation to the outside.
5. Do you think Bulgaria can improve its image or branding and if yes - do you have an idea or advice you could share with us?
Today the brand is one of the most important elements to ensure visibility and success in promoting a country. Having or not having a brand implies, in some fields, existing, or not existing. Bulgaria, like Spain, has a strong brand. We have worked in an effective way through mechanisms of public diplomacy, tourism promotion, cultural cooperation, sports successes, etc. The results are no coincidence, you have to work and actively promote the positive aspects of that brand. In fact, the Spanish administration has institutions dedicated to promoting this image. I believe that this is useful work and that it gives positive results and probably Bulgaria can also do many things in that regard.
6. What would be the 3 most important events for your Embassy until the end of this year?
To confine myself to three events between now and the end of the year seems a bit scarce. However, I will do a small exercise in self-discipline. For the National Day on October 12 we have planned an important seminar on Spain in the Balkans, which we will elaborate together with the Institute for Balkan Studies entitled “Meeting the Balkans through the eyes of journalists, soldiers and diplomats”. On the other hand, we have programmed an important exhibition on the figure of the Nobel Prize Ramón y Cajal on the anniversary of his birth, as discoverer of the neural connections that, as you know, are at the origin of subsequent studies on the mechanism of information and functioning of our brain, fundamental in current medicine. Also, we will be presenting in the city of Varna the exhibition on the first circumnavigation of the globe of Magallanes and El Cano, the week dedicated to Spanish cinema in Nova TV, the upcoming visit of high-level officials from the Spanish MFA in order to prepare for the Spanish EU Presidency in 2023 and, finally, we plan to reopen at the end of the year in the building of the Parliament an excellent exhibition on engravings of editions of the fundamental work of Spanish literature Don Quixote de la Mancha. This is only a small sample of the activities that will be organized, as we have been doing in the last two years, through the cities of Bulgaria with several commemorative exhibitions.
7. How deep has the COVID pandemic affected the bilateral relations between Bulgaria and your country?
It affected them very deeply. There is an important Bulgarian community that lives and works in Spain whose existence justifies an increase in the level of flights and communications between our countries. The pandemic meant profoundly altering those communications that are still in recovery. On the other hand, in 2019 we had noticed a very important growth of tourism in both directions. Unfortunately, this development was dramatically affected. The recovery that had been announced earlier this year has also been distorted by the effect of the war in Ukraine. However, the indicators are starting to be positive and we expect the growing trend of before the pandemic to recover.
8. What advice can you give to Bulgarians who want to do business with people from your country?
Spaniards have a reputation for being people from the south, who like to have a good quality of life. But they are also serious and dedicated workers. The Spanish entrepreneur appreciates the sincerity and the concrete objectives for every business. Values trust and personal relationship. If you ask me what a Spaniard expects from a business counterpart I would say competence, honesty and trust. These are characteristics valid for many Bulgarian entrepreneurs, as Spanish investors in this country who have been installed for several years know well.
9. Tell us about yourself - what was your professional diplomatic career, how long have you been in Bulgaria, and what are the most fascinating places or even dishes for you in Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is not my first position as Ambassador, I have been appointed in Algeria, Mauritania and Mali. Within my Ministry you could say I have had a certain specialization in Spain's neighbors in North Africa. I have also enjoyed destinations such as Morocco and Central Europe, specifically Austria and Slovenia, in a period like the current one, complicated and difficult during the 90s. That external component I have been able to complete in my destinations in Spain with a preference for economic sectors as Secretary General of the Foundation Council Spain USA, Director General of Fisheries Resources in the Ministry of Agriculture, or as Director General of the foreign service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Varied destinations, which have allowed me to always work in sectors and areas of first interest for our foreign policy. Bulgaria plays a much-loved role in this context and the past three years in this country have been very pleasant from all points of view, especially in the relationship with people, but also because of the food. Being of Galician origin, when I go up the mountain, I never miss the opportunity to have a good trout and I must admit that I do not reject a good rakia.
10. If you must describe Bulgaria in just three words, what would they be?
Authentic, deep and attractive.
We thank Ambassador Alejandro Polanco Mata and we congratulate him, as well as the entire Spanish people, on the occasion of Spain's National Day.
Alejandro Polanco Mata, born on the 28th of November 1959 in Madrid, entered the diplomatic career in 1987 as the Director for International Financial Agencies, International Relations Director for Eastern Europe and Head of Area for the Financial Agencies in the Directorate-General for International Economic Relations. Throughout his administrative career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he was also appointed as an Assistant Director-General for Personnel, Secretary-General for the Foundation Spain/United States Council and Director-General for International Economic Relations. After his posting as Ambassador in Mauritania he was assigned as Director General of Fisheries Resources and Aquaculture in the Ministry for Environment, Marine and Rural Affairs. He has held several diplomatic positions in Austria, Slovenia and Morocco and was appointed Ambassador of Spain in Mauritania, Mali, Argelia and Bulgaria.
Novinite.com presents its new series titled: “Ambassador Talks”. It consists of interviews with Ambassadors or Heads of Missions accredited to Bulgaria in order to see their point of view on current developments - both domestic, bilateral and international. Each interview will have the same 10 questions.
Our Honorable guests so far:
Ambassador of China, His Excellency Mr. Dong Xiaojun. You can read his interview here.
Ambassador of Denmark, His Excellency Mr. Jes Brogaard Nielsen. You can read his interview here.
Chargée d'Affaires ad interim of Germany Irene Maria Plank. You can read her interview here.
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