Greece – Bulgaria following in the footsteps of the French – German axis

Greece – Bulgaria following in the footsteps of the French – German axis

Greece and Bulgaria have a long history of proximity coupled with tensions, differences, but also a common historical course during the Ottoman Empire, while the Eastern Orthodox Church is still a connecting link between the two countries.

The common heritage of the two nations played an important role in the close relations between the two countries, after the Middle Ages, between the Southern Slavs and the Byzantine Greeks as the Byzantine Empire played an important role in the spread of Orthodox Christianity in Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans. The missionaries Cyril and Methodius from Thessaloniki were the rapporteurs of the Glagolitic Alphabet and the first literary language of the Slavs, from which came the modern Bulgarian language. Towards the end of the 14th century, both Bulgaria and Greece had been under Ottoman occupation for almost five centuries.

At the beginning of the 20th century, relations were affected by periods of intense mutual hostility. Following Bulgaria’s independence in 1908, Greece and Bulgaria took part in three major wars in opposing factions, the Second Balkan War, the First World War and the Second World War, as well as the Cold War.

The two countries’ relations were normalised during the time Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis was in government in Greece and Todor Zifkov in the leadership of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

With Bulgaria’s accession to NATO and the EU, bilateral relations have improved even further so that they can now be termed as excellent. Of course during Tsipras’ election victory, there was a moment when Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov made a not so flattering comment concerning the newly elected Greek Prime Minister. This, of course, did not affect relations between the two countries, with US assistance, there was rapprochement between the two through regular visits at a high political level.

Greece and Bulgaria are now partners and allies in both the EU and NATO respectively, they work together harmoniously in regional initiatives such as the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC).

Interesting forms of cooperation at a regional level are the Tripartite Cooperation between Greece, Bulgaria and Romania and the Quadripartite meetings between Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, with the most recent Foreign Ministers Meeting held on the occasion of the 71st UNGA. Furthermore Greece and Bulgaria participate in the four-party co-operation with FYROM and Albania, which, due to political developments, contacts between the countries have weakened.

Beyond the political sphere the bilateral level of cooperation also concerns the economic and energy sectors, having established, the Hellenic-Bulgarian Supreme Cooperation Council under the coordination of the two Prime Ministers, as co-decided at the Summit in Sofia on 1 August 2016.

The multilateral cooperation of the two countries acts as a pillar of stability in the wider Balkan region, with the result that the Greek-Bulgarian axis is a model of cooperation both in the EU and in the Balkans.

Trade cooperation between the two countries is characterised by a considerable volume of bilateral trade. In 2015, in the overall ranking of foreign buyers of Greek products, Bulgaria ranked 5th after Turkey, Italy, Germany and Cyprus, while Bulgaria ranked 9th in the ranking of suppliers in Greece.

In the general ranking of foreign investors in Bulgaria, Greece, traditionally in third place, took a tumble to fourth for the first time in years, after the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, with total investments (stock) at € 2.39 billion at the end of 2015.

Greek investments show broad sectoral and geographical dispersion, with banking as the most important sector (3 banking groups). Major investments have also been made in industry, energy, construction, food, services, and so on.

Tourist flow between the two countries also kept a steady dynamic during the 2014-2015 period, with Greece being the second most popular tourist destination for Bulgarian travellers after Turkey.

In the energy sector, the Gas Interconnector Greece Bulgaria (IGB), which is interconnected with TAP and will supply natural gas to Bulgaria and other countries, is one of the largest investment projects in the Balkan region, making the two countries an energy cross roads.

The way the two countries’ views identify on many issues of concern to the international community as well as the EU has created an alliance with a view to cooperation on security and stability in the region. From both the Greek side and the Bulgarian side, the cooperation between the two countries is considered of strategic importance and could be developed into the French-German axis of Southeastern Europe./ΙΒΝΑ