Our friendly relations are strong, Europe is free and strong

- We tried to pass the baton on important current topics to Portugal as smoothly as possible: Covid-19, climate protection, migration and EU enlargement to the Western Balkans

- We have managed to use all the market power of the EU and ensure a fair distribution of vaccines according to the share of the EU population

- With the "Next Generation" EU Fund, we already have a € 750 billion financial instrument to help overcome the economic consequences of the pandemic

- We would like to see more progress in the solidarity-based pan-European migration regulation

- Germany remains the most important trade partner of Bulgaria

- Last year, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, 60% less German tourists travelled to Bulgaria 

- Currently in Germany there are almost 7,000 Bulgarian students, and more than 1,000 German students have chosen to study in Bulgaria, mainly in the field of medicine, and this trend is intensifying

- When the situation with Covid-19 allows it, there will again be high-class German-Bulgarian cultural projects

E. Mr. Christoph Eichhorn was born in 1958 in Heidelberg. He studied History, Public Law, European Law, International Law and Political Science. He is also a journalist, moderator and reporter for Radio ARD. From 1984 to 1986 he was an EU consultant in Brussels. He then trained as an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and started working in the European Political Cooperation / European Parliament. Over the years he has held important positions in this institution. From 1992 to 1995 he was in the Management Headquarters, Department of Parliamentary and Governmental Affairs, and from 1995 to 1998 he was Deputy Head of the "Speeches" Department. From 2004 to 2008 he was the head of the department "USA / Canada/G8 process of foreign ministers", and from 2011 to 2015 he headed the sub-directorate (commissioner) for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Outside the country, his ascending career went through various missions. From 1989 to 1992 he was cultural attaché at the German Embassy in Moscow. From 1998 to 2000, he was an exchange officer at the United States’ Department of State in Washington. From 2000 to 2004 he was at the German embassy in Washington, and from 2001 he was deputy head of the political department there. Later, from 2008 to 2011, he was again in Washington as a ministerial adviser, head of the mission's political department. From 2015 to 2019 he was his country's Ambassador to Estonia. On September 19, 2019, H. E. Mr. Christoph Eichhorn presented his credentials as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic soon followed, thwarting many of our plans and projects. But, as he told Diplomatic Spectrum: "I look forward to our future talks. Personal ones. As soon as it becomes possible again."

- Your Excellency, the German Presidency of the Council of the EU recently concluded under the motto: "Together for the reconstruction of Europe". Did you succeed, did you make it stronger?

- Together with our partners in the trio holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, as well as with other EU Member States and in close cooperation with the Commission and the European Parliament, we have managed to strengthen Europe by completing important dossiers. We had to consider the situation with the coronavirus and the very different positions of the Member States - a difficult task.

With the "Next Generation" Fund, we now have a € 750 billion financial instrument to help overcome the economic consequences of the pandemic. Along with the amount of over 21 million from the regular budget, Bulgaria will receive more than 7 million from this fund. This is called pan-European solidarity in action.

The negotiations on the EU budget have also been successful, which is characterized by solidarity but also by the new areas for the future. Europe will invest much more in innovation and science, as well as in digitalisation and climate protection, than ever before. This will make us stronger and thus strengthen Europe's sovereignty between the world's major power blocks.

It was important for us Germans to continue to focus on the rule of law, on the one hand, by tying budget funds to the rule of law and, on the other, by introducing new European consultative mechanisms. The rule of law is essential for the effective pursuit of goals and respect for EU values. Also important was the fact - thanks to the solidarity shown by all EU Member States and especially by the EU's chief negotiator - Barnier - that we managed to put future relations with Britain on a contractual basis shortly before "Closure". The United Kingdom remains an important partner with whom we have many things in common.

- Are there any goals that you did not achieve as you would like?

 - We would certainly like to see more progress in solidarity-based pan-European migration regulation. Germany is particularly interested in this regard as a country of final destination for migration, but also Bulgaria, which, being located at the EU's external border, contributes significantly to border protection and European solidarity. We would like the first EU accession talks between the Republic of Northern Macedonia and Albania to take place soon. Getting the Western Balkan countries closer with the EU remains a key goal. We hope for progress in the bilateral negotiations between Bulgaria and Northern Macedonia.

- The German presidency happened at a difficult time - during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. What have you done to tackle the coronavirus issue in EU?

- From the outset, Germany has called for pandemic measures to be better coordinated in Europe. We also called for the common purchase of vaccines and their fair and even distribution in the Member States in order to overcome the pandemic quickly. This will benefit all citizens in all Member States, regardless of their financial means.

- Portugal took the baton from you. What initiatives did you pass on to it?

- In the framework of the tripartite presidency with Slovenia and Portugal, we are committed to continuing to pursue our common goals. It is important for us to strengthen solidarity and sovereignty in Europe. We tried to pass the baton as smoothly as possible. Important current topics are Covid-19, climate protection, migration and EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. I wish Portugal and then Slovenia all the best, and I am convinced that their presidency of the Council of the EU will achieve a great deal.

- Your motto as an ambassador to our country is: "Germany and Bulgaria: together we work in a friendly manner for our free and strong Europe." Are we succeeding?

- Our friendly relations are strong, Europe is free and strong. But this is not something that goes without saying, but is achieved and maintained through daily work. Take, for example, the negotiations with the vaccine manufacturers. In the larger and richer EU countries, there are voices saying that it would be better for everyone to negotiate with producers on their own and not leave it to the EU. What would other EU countries do then? They would stay dry. By promoting joint negotiations, we have been able to use the full market power of the EU and ensure a fair distribution of vaccines according to the EU's share of the population. And in the future, when there are significant problems, the question will be raised again and again: should the answer be sought through national, independent efforts or through a coordinated approach from across the EU? If we want to be strong, we must be united.

- At what stage are our trade and economic relations at the moment?

- Trade relations between Germany and Bulgaria are traditionally very strong. Germany remains Bulgaria's most important trading partner. Of course, economic relations have suffered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but fortunately, in general, it hasn’t been much. Investments have not dropped significantly either.

- Germany and Bulgaria have strong ties in the field of tourism. Bulgarians have always welcomed German tourists. How did coronavirus affect tourism in the past 2020?

- Unfortunately, the situation in tourism seems difficult. This industry, one way or another, is one of the most affected by the pandemic worldwide. Last year, 60% less German tourists travelled to Bulgaria. Compared to many other countries, this is still a relatively small decline, but it is, of course, a matter of serious concern. We will hear the first signs of improvement from the tourism industry when vaccinations show their effectiveness.

- How are the partnerships between the regions in our countries developing during the pandemic?

- There is a great exchange between our countries, also at the regional level. Our citizens, including many young people, meet and that is very good. For example, Ortenau County recently provided the Vidin region with two ventilators for the local hospital. Many such connections at regional and local level show how close our relationship is.

- The Bulgarian-German cultural relations are traditionally good. What are they at the moment?

- Our really good relations in the field of culture, education and science are stable in the long run and continue to develop well. If you decide to study or build a career in the cultural sector in Germany, it is usually for long lasting periods. The same goes for the other direction. For example, there are currently almost 7,000 Bulgarian students in Germany. The German Academic Exchange Service, represented in Bulgaria by three lecturers, offers many scholarship opportunities.

And another thing that is very interesting - more than 1,000 German students have chosen to study in Bulgaria, mainly in the field of medicine, and this trend is growing. German students here praise the high quality of education and the good communication between teachers and students. Comprehensive communication between universities and international students is paramount, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

- The future is for the young. How does Germany stimulate their rapprochement in Europe, and in particular, the rapprochement of Bulgarian and German youth?

- Germany supports the EU's Erasmus program. It gives young Bulgarians the opportunity to study abroad for some time and return with valuable experience. In this way, students from other EU countries also get to know Bulgaria. There is nothing better than the cohesion of Europe and mutual understanding! In addition, there are German-Bulgarian programs, for example, the proposals of the German Academic Exchange Service for students in bachelor's, master's and postdoctoral programs. They allow young people from Bulgaria to finance their study or research stay in Germany. Another great program is "kulturweit" - a volunteer service funded by the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It provides an opportunity for young Germans to stay in Bulgaria, for example, by supporting German language training in one of the many German-language language high schools. These young people also bring home very positive impressions of Bulgaria. Each of these stays-abroad contributes to people getting to know each other even better and learning to appreciate themselves more.

- What can we expect regarding bilateral cooperation in 2021?

- When the situation with Covid-19 allows it, there will again be high-class German-Bulgarian cultural projects. In this respect, the leading partner is mostly the Goethe Institute. I don't want to reveal too much, but we can look forward to special "appetizing surprises" from the performing and visual arts. Of course, we would like the economy to recover and new investments to be made. The latest study by the Foreign Trade Chamber (AHK) on the impact of the coronavirus on the Bulgarian economy showed a slightly positive trend. If more and more people are vaccinated and the warm temperatures in the spring and summer continue to push the virus out, we hope to reach pre-coronavirus levels again soon.

- You have been in Bulgaria for a year and a half. What are your impressions of the country and the people?

- Since the summer of 2019 I have had many opportunities to travel around the country. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, virtual meetings have come to our aid. Bulgaria has many warm-hearted people, beautiful landscapes, very old culture and traditions, good mineral baths and excellent red wine. There is a great openness to Germany and Europe. I look forward to our future talks. Personal ones. As soon as this becomes possible again.

The photo was provided by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Bulgaria.