Sofia, April 14, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
European and Euro-Atlantic integration in South Eastern Europe open up possibilities for deepening the comprehensive partnership between Bulgaria and Croatia, the presidents of the two countries agreed in talks in Zagreb on April 14.
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev met his host and counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in the Croatian capital at the start of a two-day visit during which the Bulgarian head of state is scheduled to also hold talks with other Croatian leaders. Plevneliev is the first head of state to pay an official visit after Grabar-Kitarović’s election in February 2015.
The two presidents agreed that there is no alternative to the integration processes in the region and that these processes are a key driver for the implementation of important reforms for the countries of the Western Balkans.
“The European project will only be completed when the Western Balkans become part of our family. This is the only way to ensure sustainable stability and prosperity for the entire region,” Plevneliev said, according to a media statement by the Bulgarian Presidency.
He said that Bulgaria would continue its consistent support for European integration of its neighbours.
Accession to the Schengen area is a priority for Bulgaria and Croatia and the two countries will unite their efforts to achieve this goal, the statement said.
Plevneliev said that in 2010 the error was made of politicising the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen.
He said that this temporary problem would soon be solved, since the accession criteria are purely technical, the two countries have met them a long time and this has been recognised repeatedly by both the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Plevneliev said that Bulgaria was maintaining its borders responsibly and rigorously implementing its obligations.
The two presidents agreed that increased migratory pressure at the external borders of the EU requires European solidarity and burden-sharing among member states, the statement said.
According to the two presidents. “unlocking the economic potential in South East Europe and attracting more investments can be done only through the joint efforts of all countries in the region.
A lack of good transport and energy connectivity is a major obstacle to accelerating economic development in the Balkans, the statement said.
The Bulgarian President called for joint efforts and a regional approach to modern transport and energy infrastructure.
Plevneliev said that construction of the European Energy Union should start from the Balkans.
“The creation of a regional energy market will allow the formation of an integrated energy market, to remove the dependence on a single supplier and ensure that market prices of energy resources,” he said.
Energy security can only be achieved through interconnection of electricity and gas networks and building a system of interconnectors.
“Each of the countries in the region should have the right to buy gas at a competitive price and have access to alternative suppliers,” Plevneliev said.
In terms of a direct air link between Sofia and Zagreb, he said that work on this had been proceeding for several years, and with the increase in business contacts and tourist traffic, this could happen soon.
Trade and economic cooperation and the annual turnover of 140 million euro between Bulgaria and Croatia do not meet the potential of the two countries, the presidents agreed. They reaffirmed their readiness to work to promote direct contacts between Bulgarian and Croatian business for implementation of joint projects.
Promotion of sectors with high added value and the promotion of innovation in information and communication technologies are among the priorities in the economic policies of both countries and create prospects for successful co-operation between companies of the two countries, it emerged at the meeting.
Tourism is also a sector with growth potential by opening the opportunity for the creation of joint tourist packages for third countries, the statement said.
The changed security situation in the region requires an adequate response and Bulgaria and Croatia will continue to fulfill their allied obligations within NATO, it was confirmed at the meeting of the two presidents. They discussed the stability risks arising from the crisis in Ukraine and the Middle East, the statement said.