We Will Support Bulgaria for the European Perspective of the Western Balkans

Ion Galea was born in 1978. He graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Bucharest. Then he specialized at the Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University. From 2000 to 2002, he completed a Masters Degree in International Relations at the National School of Political and Administrative Sciences in Bucharest. He holds a Masters Degree in European Studies in Graz, Austria. He has gained several specializations.

His professional career began at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania as a diplomat and legal expert. In the periods 2002-2007 and 2009-2010 he is the Head of Unit and Director of the European Law Directorate. From 2010 to 2016, he is General Director of Legal Affairs at the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

E. Mr. Ion Galea is an Associate Professor of International Law at the University of Bucharest. He has a number of publications: 10 books (as author and co-author) and about 30 articles in the field of International Law and European Union Law, including: "The Use of Force in International Law", "EU Treaties - Comments on the Texts", "The Right of Treaties".

The Ambassador is a winner of prestigious Romanian awards: National Order "Faithful Service"(2013), National Order of Merit (2009), Medal "Diplomatic Merit" (2007).

From 2016 he is Ambassador of Romania to the Republic of Bulgaria.

- Your Excellency, the joint meeting of the Governments of Romania and the Republic of Bulgaria took place on the 3rd of October in the Evksinograd Palace near Varna. What are the results of it and is the Romanian side contented with them?

- The joint meeting of the governments of Bulgaria and Romania (the High-Level Cooperation Council), which took place on the 3rd of October, is another element that reflects the excellent relations between our countries - friendly and affiliate, within the European Union and NATO. This meeting has become a natural thing - it was its fourth session - and it will certainly help to strengthen the relations between the two countries.

During the joint meeting, it was decided that the governments of Romania and Bulgaria would coordinate their priorities with a view to taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Union (Bulgaria in the first half of 2018 and Romania in the first half of 2019) and they will strengthen cooperation in common areas of interest such as economy, energy, transport. Indeed, a number of documents were signed at the government meeting to help strengthen the sectoral cooperation.

The relationship between Romania and Bulgaria, characterized as "deep partnership", will continue to be based on sincerity, trust, pragmatism and willingness to increase our cooperation.

- A four-sided meeting of the prime ministers of Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Serbia was held immediately after this meeting. What was its purpose and were any concrete decisions taken there?

- Indeed, on the same date, the four-sided meeting of Bulgaria-Greece-Romania-Serbia summit was held. Its aim was to strengthen the cooperation between the four countries.

Within its framework, Romania's Prime Minister Mihai Tudose and the Prime Minister of Bulgaria Mr. Boiko Borisov, underlined the importance of Serbia becoming a member of the European Union, as soon as, it meets the accession criteria.

The importance of the gas transmission link between Serbia and Bulgaria and the interconnection of the electricity grids between Romania and Serbia was also mentioned, and it is important that all four countries act as a partner in energy relations with the rest of the EU and take steps to eliminate dependence on one provider.

- How important is the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU in early 2018 considering the Balkans. What do you think attracts the attention of the neighbours during the preparation of this presidency?

- It is known that, as the priorities of the EU Council presidency were presented in the first half of 2018, one of them is regarding the European perspective of the Western Balkans. This is an objective that Romania strongly supports too, which is why the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU will benefit from our full support in this area.

It is important for the process of enlargement of the European Union to the Western Balkan countries that there will be a series of presidents who have traditionally adopted positions in its support: Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Croatia. I think this is a very important moment to be fully used. That is why it is important to coordinate the countries holding the Presidency.

I also believe that it is important for the relations with the Western Balkan countries that their European path be accompanied by concrete projects visible to the citizens. Among them are those related to transport, road and railway infrastructure, as well as to the energy.

At the same time, there is very significant public communication in the relations with the countries of the Western Balkans and especially with their citizens. It is important for them to understand the European Union's support for these countries.

- Romania is also ahead of the presidency in 2019. It will be at the threshold of the new phase in the cohesion policy after 2020. What do you think should be our region's requirements for this policy?

- Cohesion policy is one of the most important and complex policies of the European Union - a status stemming from the objective of reducing the economic, social and territorial disparities between the different regions and Member States of the EU. For Romania - and I know that Bulgaria's position is the same - maintaining the essence of cohesion policy in the perspective of the multiannual financial framework after 2020 is a crucial objective. For the period 2014-2020, Cohesion Policy sets two priority objectives, namely: - investments for growth and jobs in the Member States and regions funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF) and the European Social Fund (ESF); European territorial cooperation benefiting from ERDF funding. In the context of the negotiations on the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework, cohesion policy has undergone a reform process that aims to maximize the impact of funding and increase the European added value of this policy by: enhancing strategic planning and focusing interventions on the priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy; orientating productivity by strengthening the system of conditions and incentives; improving evaluation of results; support for the use of new financial instruments; consolidation of management; strengthening the territorial dimension of Cohesion Policy; consolidation of the partnership; simplification of the implementation system; improving financial management; reducing the administrative burden; ensuring financial discipline. These elements were included in the regulations, governing the Cohesion Policy for the period of 2014-2020.

We are aware that the EU budget will have to face major challenges such as: the funding of policies or activities related to the management of migratory flows, the BREXIT and the general idea of ​​rethinking the structure of the Union's own resources. However, Romania is convinced that the Cohesion Policy will continue to generate growth across the Union. We should not see the Cohesion Policy and the "new" migration-related actions as elements of competitiveness but as supplementary. Even if, of course, the instruments that guarantee the functioning of cohesion policy can be the subject of the post-2020 reform proposals, we believe that the essence of the funding philosophy must be preserved. We believe that this is important both for balanced development and growth in the Union and for strengthening the Communication on building a strong and coherent European Union based on the principle of inclusion.

- Relations between Bulgaria and Romania are indicative of a fruitful and mutually beneficial regional cooperation regarding different areas. One example is the gas connector across the Danube. What is the outcome of this energy project for both countries and the region?

 - The interconnector between the national gas networks Giurgevo-Rousse was opened on the 11th of November 2016 and is a major energy security project for the two countries. It is part of an integrated regional project of European interest called BRUA (Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria) that will operate at maximum capacity by 2019 and will provide a two-way flow with a capacity of 1.5 billion km/year. This will ensure the diversification of gas supplies to the countries of the region, energy security through access to new sources, a new transport corridor to the Central European Caspian gas markets, and last but not least, the reduction of supply risks in crisis situations.

- There is also something to be considered in the field of economic relations - trade, investment ...

- The geographic proximity and positioning in the European Union of our countries are only two elements that stimulate the economic co-operation between them. In terms of bilateral trade relations, Romania ranks fourth in Bulgaria's global trade and third in that of the European Union. A total volume of trade of over € 3.9 billion was achieved in 2016, which is a very good result. Bilateral exchanges are characterized by a balanced level, which is an expression of the complementarity of our economies. As far as investments are concerned, the figures are impressive, with the number of registered companies (over 2000 in each country), but with a moderate volume of financial investment of about 200 million euros in each country.

- Are the bridges Rousse-Giurgevo and Vidin-Calafat enough for the intense transport traffic between the two countries? What problems shall be solved by common effort?

 - The creation of new Danube connections is a necessity that can stimulate both bilateral trade and international traffic. In this respect, on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2014 on the construction of a new bridge at Silistra-Calaras or Nikopol-Turnu Magurele, as well as, other proposals for additional seats, the discussions between the two parties give priority to the question of road links, including the theme of building a new bridge. Identifying funding resources is a priority for local and central authorities in both countries. The issue of connectivity has been the subject of the agenda of the most important meetings in the bilateral political dialogue this year, from which I can mention his visit to Bucharest, of the Deputy Prime Minister of Justice and Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva (7th of June 2017); the official visit of Rumen Radev - President of the Republic of Bulgaria, in Romania (June 28-29, 2017); as well as, the joint meeting of the two governments of Bulgaria and Romania (on the 3rd of October 2017).

- When talking about foreign tourists in Bulgaria, Romanians are rarely mentioned. Maybe because we're very close. How does tourism develop in both directions?

 - My approach will be a bit different: namely, that Romanian tourists are the most numerous in the Black Sea resorts or ski resorts in Bulgaria. In 2016, around 1.1 million people were registered in hotels, a figure increased by 11% over the previous year. A significant increase was also registered for Bulgarian tourists in Romania, with a figure of 400 000 in 2016, an increase of 27%. The very good cooperation between travel agencies is complemented by the constant support of the tourism ministries in both countries. There is also a protocol signed by both institutions to attract tourists from third markets in our countries by promoting joint packages for Romania and Bulgaria.

The material was provided by Standart newspaper - standartnews.com and updated by the Diplomatic Spectrum.

Photo: Embassy of Romania