Message from H. E. Mr. Alejandro Polanco, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Bulgaria, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries

On May 8th we celebrate the 110th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Spain and Bulgaria. This significant event is being accompanied throughout the year by an extensive programme of cultural activities, with the aim not only of strengthening our relations in all areas (political, economic and cultural), but also of approaching the image of the two countries and their rich, solid and diverse heritage among the Bulgarian and Spanish societies.

Nevertheless, the restrictions on public events that we are suffering this year as a result of the sanitary emergency provoked by COVID-19, forced us to delay or restructure some of these activities. As a good example, the traditional Don Quixote reading which is usually carried out on 23rd of April, the World Book Day, has been adapted. This year, it was organized as a virtual event thanks to the contribution of prominent Bulgarian personalities from different areas that read fragments of the universally known work of Miguel de Cervantes.

The official date of the establishment of diplomatic relations has been celebrated by the joint declaration of both Foreign Ministers, Zaharieva and González Laya on 8th May, which was distributed on social networks.

Other activities were held in person, although they had to be postponed, such as the exhibition of the work of Castellon´s artist Carles Santos.

During the final term of the year we will pay homage to Ambassador Julio Palencia, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the unveiling in the building of this Embassy of a tribute plaque and of the 80th anniversary of the presentation of his credential letters to the Bulgarian authorities.

To that end, the Embassy, in cooperation with several Bulgarian institutions and entities, such as the Sofia municipality, the publisher "Colibri" or the Association of Jews in Bulgaria "Shalom", has prepared a tourist guide for the city of Sofia, published in Bulgarian and Spanish, with those monuments and places linked to these 110 years of history of our diplomatic relations, and especially those related to the figure of Julio Palencia.

We are also organizing an exhibition in collaboration with the Bulgarian State Archives Agency for the months of November and December in the Agency's own exhibition hall. Furthermore, we are working with the Bulgarian News Agency and the Sofia City Council for the organization by the end of the year of a photo exhibition of the agency's archives on outdoor panels, in some central park of this city, which reflects various political, cultural, sports and social events from the two countries.

And last but not least, there are several concerts with Spanish musical compositions, one of which will coincide with our National Day on October 12th.

110 years is a long period of time and as history itself has demonstrated, our relations have crossed different stages. First among them was the presentation in January of 1911 to Tsar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria of credential letters of Manuel Multedo y Cortina, who was Chargé d'affaires in Bucharest, and also accredited in the kingdoms of Bulgaria and Serbia.

The 90s decade marked a strong progress of the relations between both countries. The first Treaty of Friendship between both countries was signed in 1993 and since 1997 the relations between Spain and Bulgaria found a fresh impetus which coincided with the negotiations for accession of Bulgaria into the EU.

Spain supported Bulgaria during its NATO, EU and OECD membership negotiations. After EU membership, Spain applied very quickly a policy of free circulation of workers that helped strongly our relationship. Within the European Union, Spain supports as well the entry of Bulgaria into the Schengen and the Euro.

Nowadays the bilateral relations between both countries are excellent and increasing. They mainly focus on these next three areas:

Frequent political contacts take place bilaterally and at the European level. Last year we resumed the political consultations between the two countries at Ministerial level after some impasse.

The economic bilateral relations between Spain and Bulgaria have developed strongly although there is always room for improvement. During 2019 Spain ranked in the top ten foreign investors in Bulgaria. The total exchange exceeded 2 000 million euro. Spain was the eight supplier and the ninth client for Bulgaria.

In terms of accumulated stock, the Spanish net accumulated investment over the period of 2004-2018, increased to more than a billion euro.

Spain is currently presented in various economic sectors in Bulgaria. One of them is the railways infrastructure sector, in which Spain plays a leading role at international level.

Spain is also represented in energy and particularly in the nuclear power industry, with companies like REPSOL, Duro Felguera and ACS.

Several hotel companies (Sol Meliá, Iberostar, Med Playa, Barceló and Riu) are operating in Bulgaria as well as some travel agencies (Viajes El Corte Inglés).

There is also a growing interest in the defence area aiming at developing joint collaboration projects in the field of European Defence Fund and through the European defence industrial development program (EDIDP) and in innovation and entrepreneurship (the WEBIT technology fair was initially planned to be held this year in Valencia).

Additionally, other sectors of interest for our companies should be mentioned such as the textile production (INDITEX), the residential construction, sanitary and bathroom fittings (ROCA) and the water sector where Spain has proven experience that could be valuable to the Bulgarian companies.

In the cultural area, despite the distance between of our two countries, the contacts are very strong with a very fruitful human exchange with many years of mutual history.

The Spanish Embassy through its Education Office and in collaboration with the Cervantes Institute, present in Sofia since 2006, regularly takes part in the organization of cultural events.

Thanks to the interest that Spanish learning awakes in Bulgaria – today ranks fourth after English, Russian and German languages - more than 20 000 young people learn our language in different schools. There are 14 bilingual high schools in Bulgarian cities, 150 schools that teach Spanish throughout the whole country and six Universities have a Spanish Department. Spain has also become the first country in the world as regards the number of Bulgarian pupils studying their mother tongue in schools on weekends.

All this has helped to increase the interest of Bulgarians in our country and our language and to strengthen the bilateral relations, in which the presence of a large Bulgarian community in Spain also plays a very important role.

There are other fields of cooperation between both countries at European level, such as tourism, the cohesion policy, the common agricultural policy, defence, the social dimension of the internal market, the fight against terrorism, judicial cooperation or migration.

I do not want to conclude these pages before extending my sympathy and support with all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The cooperation and solidarity from all EU member states will be necessary to confront nowadays´ unprecedented health and economic crisis that we are living in. It is a global crisis that has affected all countries all over the world and that will require a common and coordinated response between all European partners.

As EU Member States, Spain and Bulgaria are confronting more and more complex challenges. The continued dedication and commitment during these 110 years, together with the affinity, affection and friendliness shared by our nations are the best way to face with optimism a long and promising future.

The photo was provided by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain in the Republic of Bulgaria. On it: H. E. Mr. Alejandro Polanco, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Bulgaria