Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Ekaterina Zaharieva raised today in Athens the issue of the faster reopening of operations in as many checkpoints as possible from the Greek side at the shared border, as the Kulata-Promachonas checkpoint is currently the only crossing point open, due to the Greek coronavirus-related measures.
Zaharieva visited Athens on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. She discussed the issue of border checkpoints in her meetings with Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“We also talked about how to facilitate the movement between the two countries amidst the conditions of the coronavirus. I thank Prime Minister Mitsotakis for his commitment to consult with the Greek team of experts and to restore the movement through at least one more border checkpoint”, said Ekaterina Zaharieva after her talks with Mitsotakis and Dendias. She stressed that it was not possible for just one single border crossing point to currently serve the entire flow of passengers to Greece across the shared border, and this raises grave difficulties for citizens.
“I can assure you that the Prime Minister is personally committed to addressing the issue and a solution will soon be reached, because he realized that this is important not only for the two peoples, but also for communication in the European Union. The pandemic put us in a very difficult position on many levels. Scientists have a great responsibility and we are moving based on their advice”, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias confirmed. “I want to congratulate you on how well you handled the coronavirus situation. We all have problems, but overall the countries are doing very well”, Dendias said. Zaharieva assured that Bulgaria is a safe destination for Greek tourists and invited them to visit the country.
During the meeting with Nikos Dendias, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister also tapped on the issue of the faster construction of the Rudozem-Xanthi border checkpoint on the Greek side. It will not only improve traffic, but will also contribute to the economic development of the Bulgarian and Greek regions.
The two foreign ministers discussed the full range of bilateral relations in the framework of the strategic partnership, including the construction of the gas interconnection, describing them as excellent. It was agreed that the economic delegations would work together to attract high-tech investments in the region, especially in the automotive industry.
“An important lesson we need to learn from the coronavirus crisis is how interconnected we all are and that we need to work together to overcome the consequences. There is no way a country will be able to deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus alone”, said Ekaterina Zaharieva.
“Greece is one of the most important trading partners of Bulgaria. In 2019, bilateral trade with Greece amounted to 3.5 billion euros, an increase of 8.3%. Our exports to Greece increased by 6.5% and amounted to 2 billion euros. Imports increased by 10.7% to 1.5 billion Euros. The rest is positive (461 million euros)”.
The two ministers welcomed the European Council’s decision on the general budget and the rescue plan to deal with the crisis, stressing the importance of the rapid preparation of national programs for its implementation.
The European integration of the Western Balkans and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean were also on the agenda. Ekaterina Zaharieva and Nikos Dendias reaffirmed the common position of supporting the European aspirations of the 6 countries in the region, because this is important for the security of the whole EU. At the same time, on the path to the EU, it is important to implement reforms and respect principles of good neighborliness.
Regarding the climaxing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ekaterina Zaharieva expressed Bulgarian support for Greece and Cyprus and reaffirmed Bulgaria’s position that the sovereign rights of all EU countries must be respected in full compliance with international law. She expressed hope for a de-escalation in tensions between Turkey and Greece, calling for the settlement of disputes in a spirit of good neighborliness and goodwill, rather than through unilateral action.
The foreign ministers of Bulgaria and Greece expressed deep regret over the change in the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. According to the Bulgarian side, Hagia Sophia constitutes living proof of the intercultural and interreligious dialogue and should be preserved as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Greece is the first country the Foreign Minister of Bulgaria visited after the resumption of in-vivo diplomatic contacts, following the first stage of the coronavirus crisis. Ekaterina Zaharieva confirmed the strategic cooperation between the two countries during her meeting with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou. /ibna