The Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Bulgaria to Georgia Desislava Ivanova talks in an exclusive interview with newcaucasus.com about Georgian-Bulgarian relations, issues of European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia, visa liberalization, business contacts between Georgia and Bulgaria and many more.
— In 2017-2018, the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in Georgia will be entrusted with the functions of the NATO as a contact embassy, and on January 1 2018, Bulgaria will become the Chairman of the Council of the European Union. Do you think this is likely to affect the relations of the EU and NATO with Georgia, and if yes, in what way?
— Let me begin by saying that as the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to Georgia, I can not but express satisfaction with the excellent and dynamically developing political dialogue and cooperation at the highest level between our countries. Bulgaria supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia in its internationally recognized borders. We are one of the most active supporters of European and Euro-Atlantic prospects of Georgia. Our fulfillment of the functions as the contact embassy of NATO and our subsequent chairmanship in the EU Council will serve as additional prerequisites for the exchange of experience, and will deepen the cooperation of our countries.
Furthermore, as the contact embassy of NATO, we have already implemented several joint initiatives with our Georgian partners, as well as several more initiatives are in the process of preparation. At the beginning of the year, we held an international seminar on the topic ‘Annual National Program of Georgia’, which was jointly organized with the staff of the State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. A seminar on the synchronization of actions in the framework of NATO-Georgia, organized jointly with the Ministry of Defense of Georgia, has been recently accomplished. On the threshold of the ‘NATO Week’, the first public discussion from a series of our initiatives ‘NATO-Café’ is going to take place together with the NATO Office and the Institute of Strategic Studies on Caucasian Issues. The purpose of this project, I would call it a platform, is to raise awareness about NATO among a wide Georgian audience. Representatives of the embassy will take part in the program ‘NATO Week’ in Tbilisi, and will also give thematic lectures and hold other public events.
As for our upcoming chairmanship in the EU, we do have certain ambition in this regard. We intend to display the required flexibility in a number of issues. On the whole, we will pay special attention to the issues of paramount importance for EU members and citizens: migration, safety, the future of the EU, etc.
— How would you assess the economic cooperation between Bulgaria and Georgia, especially, given the transit role of both countries and the development of the transit corridor Asia-Europe? What economic relations exist between Georgia and Bulgaria?
— According to statistics, the Republic of Bulgaria is in the top ten trading partners of Georgia. We are very pleased with the development of economic relations between our countries, especially in the field of combined transportation, with our country as one of the largest suppliers of goods from the EU to Georgia. We should not forget that Georgia is an important partner in the implementation of projects to diversify energy sources and routes to deliver natural gas to Europe, including Bulgaria. We hope that Georgia will continue to support these projects actively, and will continue to participate in the provision of the transit of new volumes of Azerbaijani natural gas to Europe, and in the future, possibly, gas from Iran and Turkmenistan. This will be an additional impetus for economic cooperation.
— Are there any Bulgarian investments in Georgia and vice versa?
— The company ‘Cable-Bulgaria’ represents the major Bulgarian investment in Georgia. The company provides with the fiber-optic cables for internet connection between Varna and Poti. The investment is assessed at 85 million US Dollars and was enabled in 2008. Nowadays, the Bulgarian company ‘Hydrolea’ is participating in the development of the 4th hydroelectric power station in Georgia. The station is to be put into operation in the nearest future. At present, we are preparing the visit of the representatives of the Bulgarian ‘Investment Agency’ to Georgia to conduct business meetings with the ‘Partnership Fund’ and ‘Co-Investment Fund’. The parties will discuss the prospects for investment cooperation during these meetings.
— What are the prospects for the development of tourist relations between the two countries? To what extent are the tourists from Bulgaria interested in Georgia?
— I would like to note that Bulgaria is well-known to Georgian tourists. On average, approximately 15000 citizens of Georgia visit our country every year. In 2013, a ferry was launched along Burgas-Batumi route, which offers the passengers comfortable and good conditions. I would also like to take an advantage and congratulate Georgia with the abolition of the visa regime with the EU. This is a great achievement and an outcome of successful reforms, carried out by the state. I am certain that the positive effect will reflect on the increase of the tourist flow and the intensity of the connections between the citizens of Georgia and the EU, on the whole.
As for tourist relations with Bulgaria, one of the positive moments is that new cooperation agreements were concluded between the Bulgarian and Georgian tour operators in February of this year. This is an additional potential for the development of our relations. Yet, I would like to note right away that the availability of regular direct flights between Bulgaria and Georgia would benefit our bilateral relations and, in particular, the sphere of tourism. In this regard, I would be happy to invite the parties to consider this possibility in earnest.
— What are the areas of cooperation between our countries in the Black Sea region?
— As countries with access to the Black Sea, and as members of regional organizations, Bulgaria and Georgia enjoy a number of common challenges and interests. For example, an essential part of the regional policy of the Republic of Bulgaria is its participation in the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, which is the most respectable and institutionally developed organization in the Black Sea region. We are actively working to improve cooperation with the BSEC countries, as coordinators of the working group of institutional renewal and effective management. We would also welcome the deepening of cooperation with the BSEC countries in the struggle against terrorism and organized crime. In addition, we actively support the creation of the Black Sea regional energy market.
As for NATO, it is well known that Bulgaria is one of the most active supporters of the ‘Open Doors’ policy. In particular, we do support the Euro-Atlantic perspective of Georgia. Taking into account the increased strategic importance of Euro-Atlantic security in the Black Sea region, we highly appreciate Georgia’s contribution to the security of the region.
— In your opinion, what is the outcome of the visa regime abolition of Georgia with the EU likely to be?
— As I said above, I would like to congratulate the Georgian people once again on the abolition of the visa regime. This is one more step in the way of Georgia’s rapprochement with natural European environment. The Republic of Bulgaria, as a country that followed the path of Georgia, has always understood the symbolic and practical significance of this basic European value for people — the ability to move freely. I have no doubt that this achievement, first of all, will contribute to the process of establishing contacts and relations between people, as well as creating favorable conditions for all those who for whatever reason wish to visit Bulgaria and other European countries. I think that this will affect the growth of the tourist flow, and will open new opportunities for business. I would like to emphasize once again: first of all, I see the moral side — the clear support that Europe provides for Georgia — in the Law on visa liberalization
— The creation of new transport corridor linking the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf, with Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Greece as future participants was discussed last year. What is the fate of this project?
— In 2016, the Republic of Bulgaria and Georgia agreed on further simplification of the transportation of goods from Europe to Asia and back, through the territories of their states. Both countries agreed to participate actively in the negotiations for the project on a multilateral agreement concerning the creation of a transport and transit corridor the Persian Gulf — the Black Sea along the route Bulgaria-Black Sea-Georgia-Armenia/Azerbaijan-Iran. Bulgaria and Georgia have exceptionally important strategic importance for the implementation of this project, which will increase the competitiveness of the economies of the two countries and increase trade between us and with other countries participating in the project. It should not be forgotten that Georgia and Bulgaria could play an important role in the development of the railway communication project of the multimodal transport corridor from China to Europe.
— How do Bulgarian citizens perceive the processes taking places in Europe: BREXIT, reinforcement of the European skepticism, the growth of ultra-right moods? Is there a feeling of fear in Bulgaria towards the further fate of the project regarding the integrated Europe?
— The Republic of Bulgaria respects the will of the British citizens, expressed in the referendum on the membership of the United Kingdom in the EU. Despite this, we hope that in the future the relations between the EU and Great Britain will be mutually beneficial in all respects. We will be happy if the UK remains a close partner and strategic ally of the EU. We expect that active bilateral relations will continue to develop in an atmosphere of friendship and partnership. At the same time, we believe that the situation with the United Kingdom should not paralyze the work of other priority issues on the EU agenda.
As for the future of the EU, in our opinion, the Union must adapt to contemporary challenges in order to preserve its unity and integrity without deviating from its responsibilities and achievements. The future of the EU, to a large extent, depends on the quality of confidence in it. Actual tendencies of mistrust and European skepticism among European citizens require timely and appropriate solutions, including communication ones.
I think it would also be nice to remind more often of the contribution of the EU to the life of each of us, of peaceful life for more than half a century; of the free movement of goods, people, capital and services. People of my generation know very well that this was not always so. It is necessary to remind of the opportunities offered by the student and academic exchange programs, the creation of conditions for the prosperity of the economy, art, culture and, in general, quality and life expectancy.
Lika Zhorzholiani, for newcaucasus.com