Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva was welcomed with military honours at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo, where she conferred with the commanders of the NATO Headquarters and of EU Operation Althea.
“You can count on me and on Bulgaria. Your mission here is exceedingly important and is essential for Europe’s stability,” Zaharieva said, addressing Austrian Major General Anton Waldner, Commander of the European Union Force (EUFOR) Althea.
General Waldner reported to Minister Zaharieva the difficulties that the EU military contingent is experiencing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are still 7,000 tonnes of ammunition for demilitarisation and 70,000 mines for clearance in the country. The situation is even more complicated because 16 different police forces function in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they find it difficult to coordinate their work, as well as a national army of nearly 9,500 servicepersons, of whom one-third are engaged in guarding arms storage facilities.
The European Union Force (EUFOR) Operation Althea was launched by a decision of the Council of the European Union on 12 July 2004. It replaced the NATO-led Operation SFOR, which enforced the Dayton Agreements and was discontinued at the end of 2004. EUFOR Althea is mandated to maintain security in the country, and provide training and defence capacity building to the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bulgaria has participated in the mission right from the beginning. Since early September 2012, this country has committed 10 servicepersons to the Operation’s Headquarters in Sarajevo and a light infantry company of up to 140 servicepersons and up to 40 units of equipment as part of the Intermediate Reserve. The company is stationed in Bulgarian territory and is maintained in an appropriate readiness status for deployment.
Deputy Prime Minister Zaharieva also met with the Bulgarian EUFOR contingent. The Senior National Representative, Navy Captain Georgi Georgiev, is the fourth most senior officer in the international command. Currently, there is one servicewoman in the contingent.
The NATO Headquarters Commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brigadier General Robert Huston of the US Army, who is married to a Bulgarian, welcomed Minister Zaharieva in Bulgarian. “I keep citing Bulgaria as an example in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Your country has changed beyond recognition thanks to investments in infrastructure. You already put more money in parks and in urban development, for example, the space around the National Palace of Culture is unrecognisable, and this is an indication that you are a stable and prosperous country,” General Huston said. He added that he was impressed by the crisis response capabilities of the Bulgarian Armed Forces.
“NATO provides investments and better life for the citizens of the countries which are members of this Alliance. Nobody is going to invest in an insecure country,” Deputy Prime Minister Zaharieva said for her part.
On the first day of her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister also conferred with municipality mayors and representatives of non-governmental organisations, who have received development assistance from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – money that each EU Member State has to allocate from its budget annually according to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. For 2015 and 2016, Bulgaria provided financial support to projects worth EUR 260,000 in seven municipalities. The activities involve education and building the administrative capacity of local government, as well as of civil society. Thirteen projects worth EUR 230,000 are planned for 2017.
Minister Zaharieva told the mayors and the NGO representatives about the benefits of Bulgaria’s EU membership: incomes have quadrupled and the GDP has skyrocketed from BGN 25,000 million to BGN 92,000 million.