Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | February 15, 2002, Friday // 00:00

The new UK Ambassador, Mr. Ian Soutar, former UK Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (August 1997-2001) arrived in Sofia on 3 December. H.E Soutar has rich experience in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). He is married with two children.

H.E Ian Soutar met Martina Iovcheva - Editor-in-Chief of novinite.com and The News.


Q:Great Britain is one of the three countries that retained its own currency after the introduction of the euro in 12 EU member states. In your opinion will Great Britain accept the euro in the near future?

A: The Government policy is that we favor UK membership of European monetary union in principle but in practice we believe that it is necessary to fulfill certain economic conditions, otherwise the membership will not make sense either for Britain or for the other members. Basically the certain economic conditions we are looking for include: economic convergence between the UK economy and the other countries of the euro zone, we need to ensure there is a certain flexibility to allow individual countries to respond to changes in individual economies, we need to look up the effect that membership with the euro zone will have on investment, we need to look at the effect that the introduction of the euro will have on our financial services; we also want to look at the effects on employment. Those are the five areas where the government is committed to carry out an assessment within two years of the present government taking office. So, within the next eighteen months that assessment will be carried out and then the government will make a recommendation to the people of Great Britain.

Q: Is a referendum an option?

A: The Government has said that if it decides to recommend UK entry, first of all there will be a parliamentary debate and then it will go to the people for a referendum. We have a situation in which the government, the parliament and the people are all agreed since it is a fundamental change.

Q: What are the main priorities during your mandate in terms of further cooperation between Bulgaria and Great Britain?

A: I arrive to find that my predecessor Mr. Stagg left relationships between our two countries in very good shape and it is my intention, my desire to continue to maintain those good relations and if possible to improve those good relations. As for my priorities I think that to some extent my priorities are determined by the Bulgarian government's twin aims of EU membership and NATO membership- both aspirations, which we in Britain full heartedly desire. Now, to achieve those aspirations the Bulgarian government realizes that it has to carry out certain reforms in certain areas and we already established good relations in those areas. We work in the Ministry of Defense with the General Staff on questions of military reform and in other ministries such as welfare for example; we've been working on questions related to administrative reform and these are areas I do not claim that Britain has got full answers but we have undergone changes in our own country in recent years and we hope we can use our experience to assist Bulgarian ministers and officials in their work.

Q: What are the main economic factors that would attract more British companies to invest in the Bulgarian economy?

A:The single most important factor, which will encourage British investors is the assurance that there will be clear rules for investment and for resolving any disputes and practical problems; there should be, I think, a reduction of the regulatory requirements which are necessary to fulfill. British businessmen like other businessmen don't like to have to run from one ministry to another ministry to get permissions to set up a factory or transfer funds. I think that the Bulgarian Government realizes this; more could be done to make the operating climate more open and transparent to outside investors. I think that Bulgaria has many well-trained and educated workers who have a high reputation. Provided the regulatory environment is made open and transparent and it encourages investors there will be no lack of British investors coming to Bulgaria; I hope during my time they will increase.

Q: In your opinion what are Bulgaria's economic and political prospects?

A:I would say you have in the present government you have a government that is committed to reform and not to be underestimated are the difficulties, which the country faces in this difficult economic situation although it is improving and there are external factors, which make things difficult. Again I would say if the commitment of the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues is translated into reality I think that Bulgaria's prospects are good.

Q: Do you think Bulgaria will receive an invitation for NATO membership at the Prague summit in autumn?

A: I wish I could give you an affirmative answer to that. No decisions have yet been taken. I was back in London last weekend. No one has yet taken view as to which countries should be invited in Prague. I think we will be looking over the next few months at the progress that Bulgaria has made in the military reform.

Q: Does Great Britain support Bulgaria's efforts to join EU?

A: We certainly do support Bulgaria's efforts to join EU. As I said just now, we've been working with the Bulgarian Government in a number of areas, which are relevant to the EU negotiations. I can only say that the impression I had both before I came to Bulgaria and since I have been to Bulgaria is that Bulgaria has been making steady progress towards closing the various chapters of negotiations. The most difficult chapters need to be opened. I know from my conversations with Bulgarian ministers and officials that they are keen to accelerate the process.

Q: You came to Bulgaria a couple of months ago. What are your personal impressions from Bulgaria?

A:I do like it here. I arrived just before the snow started. My wife and I like it. We like to go out in the streets: the shops are busy, people fussing around. Once the snow began to disappear I have had some trips outside Sofia - to Pernik, to Plovdiv, to Troyan and I began to appreciate how beautiful the countryside is. I am very happy to be here. This is my first time to Bulgaria. I have never been here before.

Q:In your opinion, are there some similarities between British and Bulgarian people?

A:I see some similarities. I think there are some human qualities, which we share: we both have a sense of humor, may not be an identical sense of humor but we do like to joke. Both the British and the Bulgarian people like to make jokes about the government. Also, we are sociable people; we like to have good time. People enjoy going out, meeting friends. In those respects I think we are similar.

Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?

A: I wouldn't say three words; I think I would say three things. Bulgaria is a beautiful country from what little I've seen. It has got some very warm and welcoming people. Finally, it has been an exciting time to be living and working in Bulgaria just now.

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