“Bulgaria supports the enlargement [of the EU] into the Western Balkans, and I hope that you will get a candidate country status while we hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. To this end, however, you will have to fulfil your tasks,” Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva said, addressing the Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina Igor Crnadak.
Zaharieva is paying a two-day visit to Sarajevo as part of her Balkan tour.
The Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister offered Bosnia and Herzegovina technical assistance in administrative capacity enhancement, environmental protection and the fight against crime. As an example, she noted that in 2015 and 2016 alone, measures against contraband have added EUR 2 billion to Bulgaria’s budget revenues.
“I hope that you will quickly answer the European Commission questionnaire. I realise that the answers will take nearly 30,000 pages, but the Commission must see a political will to carry out the reforms. I hope that you will get a positive sign during our Presidency,” Zaharieva said.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is drawing up answers to a 3,242-item questionnaire sent by Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn within the framework of the coordination mechanism. This procedure precedes the granting of a candidate country status.
“We note your activity in the region, and we thank you for the attention you are paying to the Western Balkans. We have excellent and friendly relations, without any outstanding issues. There is a school in my native city of Banja Luka which is called the Bulgarian school,” Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak pointed out and thanked for Bulgaria’s assistance for his country’s European integration. The school in Banja Luka is named Georgi Rakovski because it was built in 1972 entirely by Bulgarian workers and with Bulgarian construction materials as a gesture to the city that was devastated by an earthquake in 1969.
The two chief diplomats said they will work together for enhanced connectivity among the countries in the Balkans. “By improving the infrastructure, we will facilitate person-to-person and business-to-business contacts,” Zaharieva said. She noted that Bulgarian tourists to Bosnia and Herzegovina have increased nearly 45-fold, but there is still room for improvement. Two-way trade can grow further, too, from its present value of EUR 110 million.
Connectivity between the two countries was also on the agenda of Deputy Prime Minister Zaharieva’s talks with Bakir Izetbegović, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Our capitals are just 580 km apart, but air travel takes at least 4 hours with changing planes in Vienna or Munich, and you need at least 8 hours to cover the distance by car,” Zaharieva emphasised.
“I am grateful to Bulgaria for being the first country that recognised Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. We have cultural and religious ties, especially with the Bogomil movement which thrived here,” Izetbegović said.
“Investors want above all security and functioning institutions. You should prioritise getting a candidate country status: I am certain that this will boost foreign investments in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Connectivity is also important,” Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva also stressed during her session with the Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mirko Šarović. The Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister discussed the problems of regional security with the Minister of Defence of Bosnia and Herzegovina Marina Pendeš.