site.btaBulgaria and Romania Upgrade Bilateral Cooperation to Strategic Partnership
Presidents Rumen Radev of Bulgaria and Klaus Iohannis of Romania Wednesday signed a political declaration on upgrading bilateral cooperation to the level of a strategic partnership. Iohannis paid an official visit to Sofia at Radev's invitation. Bilateral cooperation and connectivity, Schengen entry and security and the war in Ukraine were among the priorities in the talks.
On the agenda of the visit was a one-on-one meeting of the two Presidents, talks between the two official delegations and a joint news briefing.
Radev called the document that was signed "a declaration of higher ambitions in bilateral relations and an expression of the political will at the highest level to continue the efforts to promote European principles and mechanisms in Bulgaria, Romania and the region".
According to President Radev, Romania and Bulgaria are not just good neighbours. "Our countries are bound by deep friendship and profound historical and cultural ties," he added. The two countries joined NATO and the EU together, and are now jointly pursuing accession to Schengen and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Bulgaria and Romania are forming a common functional airspace management block, which is becoming increasingly important after Russia's war against Ukraine, he said.
Radev went on to speak about the deepening economic ties and the growing trade in goods. "Last year it exceeded EUR 8 billion and Romania is now Bulgaria's second largest trading partner after Germany," the President explained. Romania ranks first in Bulgaria's tourist exchange with our neighbouring countries, he further said.
According to Iohannis, two-way trade in the first ten months of 2022 amounted to around EUR 10 billion.
In Radev's words, there is a shared responsibility for security and stability in the Black Sea region and NATO's eastern flank. "Together we are building the necessary defence capabilities in view of the security crises in our region," the President said.
President Iohannis said that the upgrading of relations to strategic partnership "shows the depth of our ties in all dimensions and responds to the need to adapt the way we work together as neighbours and partners to the complex realities and challenges facing our region".
"The profound geostrategic changes at our borders, with consequences for the wider Black Sea region, especially in the context of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, are pushing us to be aware of the need for even closer cooperation," he also said.
He is positive that this new framework of cooperation "will lead to the materialization of new projects of bilateral and regional interest", including in matters of common interest within the EU, NATO and other international platforms.
Schengen is a common goal of priority for Bulgaria and Romania, President Rumen Radev said. "We declare our determination to put even greater efforts for our timely admission, as soon as possible, into the Schengen area," Radev said. In his words, the unfair barrier that has been placed for the two countries should not be used to solve domestic political and other issues by some EU member states.
Lifting this barrier as soon as possible would give an additional impetus to the development of the economies of Bulgaria and Romania, and would meet the fair expectations of the citizens of the two countries for equal rights in the EU, the President added.
Asked whether the migrant traffic could be an obstacle for the two countries' accession to Schengen this year, Radev said that what Bulgaria and Romania are demonstrating in terms of fighting what he called "unprecedented migrant pressure in recent years" shows the two countries' increased capacity to deal with it. The head of State pointed out that the pressure is along the entire external border of the EU while it is decreasing on the Balkan route.
Radev pointed out that his country is putting much effort in fighting secondary migration and migrant trafficking inside the country. "Here we are catching the traffickers themselves, but the economic and organizational centres of this huge, large-scale trafficking network are outside our two countries," Radev said, adding that "they are to the north and to the west of us."
Bulgaria has proposed to the EU to set up a task force here with representatives of the special services of all member states affected by the Balkan route, so that they can exchange information in a timely manner, do joint operations, and hit the financial and organizational centres of human trafficking, Radev added.
"Romania and Bulgaria are ready to join," Iohannis said. He was adamant that the two countries' actions have proven their readiness to join Schengen. He said: "Although enlargement is not related to illegal migration at the external borders, we have expressed our readiness to be part of the solutions to manage this challenge".
Radev spoke about a need for comprehensive connectivity between the two countries - transport, infrastructure, energy and digital connectivity, which has lagged behind considerably in recent years. "The average distance between two bridges on the Danube in other European countries is 30 km, while the one between the two bridges on the Bulgaria/Romania stretch of the Danube is 300 km, the head of State said. He expressed hope that a memorandum would soon be signed to declare the ambitions of the two countries to seek European support for the project for a third bridge over the Danube.
Iohannis agrees that Romania and Bulgaria need more connectivity. "From our discussions, a common desire emerged to use the new partnership framework to advance and complete major projects in the field of connectivity, in particular in the areas of transport infrastructure and navigability on the Danube and energy," he said.
Regarding the energy market, the importance of coordination in the EU plan was emphasized during the two presidents' talk, particularly in terms of supply and stronger energy independence.
Ukraine war: condemnation for Russian aggression, call to end bloodshed
The Presidents of Bulgaria and Romania condemned the Russian aggression in Ukraine and called for ending the bloodshed. Radev reconfirmed the support and solidarity of the two countries with Ukraine's struggle for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. "Considering the proximity of the conflict to our region and the national minorities the two countries have in Ukraine, we call for stopping the bloodshed and the violation of the international law," Radev said.
Radev hailed Romania's success in increasing the allocations in its national budget for building state-of-the-art defence capabilities.
Iohannis said that Romania is determined "to continue its substantial and comprehensive multidimensional support to Ukraine, for as long as needed".
He reaffirmed Romania's support for the enlargement of the EU both into Western Balkans and the eastern partners, highlighting the support that Romania is giving to Moldova and Ukraine on their European path. " I would also like to stress the importance of the EU and our partners' firm support for the stability and resilience of the Republic of Moldova in the face of the security challenges it faces. We also count on Bulgaria's support in this regard," said Iohannis.