“Bulgaria and Greece form a strategic axis of stability which provides stability and perspectives for sustainable development and growth for the entire region,” President of the Republic of Bulgaria Rumen Radev underlines in an interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
Radev paid a visit on Monday to the 87th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), where Bulgaria is an honored country, and met with President of the Hellenic Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
The president of Bulgaria describes the bilateral relationship as “never having been better”, highlighting collaboration in a series of economic sectors such as in energy, and underlines his country’s interest in the development and management plans for the ports of Kavala and Alexandroupolis, especially in light of the blocked trade routes in the Black Sea, due to the war in Ukraine.
He also points out that Bulgaria and Greece are not competitors in terms of the role of an energy hub in the region but “close, trusted reliable partners”, and he also refers extensively to a series of projects of key importance that are either already implemented or in a process of implementation (IGB, FSRU, Sea2Sea, the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, and others). President Radev also notes that Greece cannot fully unleash its potential in energy, transport, and many other areas without Bulgaria, therefore the two countries need to stand together.
Radev also makes special mention of the region of Alexandroupolis, noting that it is “a strategic center of gravity” where the projects being developed are vitally important for his country and the region.
In his interview to ANA-MPA, the Bulgarian president also responds to questions on his country’s relationship with North Macedonia in terms of the latter’s accession in the EU. As he says, “We should not speak anymore about a Bulgarian veto,” since the Copenhagen criteria for accession and the European Council’s conclusions of last June clearly set out the requirements for accession of North Macedonia, which must respond to these for a better future for its citizens and for the future “of all of us living in the Balkans.”
On the deadly floods in Greece and Bulgaria, President Radev expresses his condolences to victims’ families and underlines that “climate change is a global challenge which demands a global answer.” He also proposes collaboration between Bulgaria and Greece and exchange of information and technologies to manage natural catastrophes, and he notes that in Bulgaria the system of early warning that is already in use in Greece is under trial and will be launched in the coming months.
In conclusion, commenting on Bulgaria’s presence in this year’s Thessaloniki International Fair, Radev said he expected it would bring a lot of new partnerships between Greek and Bulgarian companies.
The full interview of Bulgarian President Rumen Radev to Athens-Macedonian News Agency and Sophia Papadopoulou is as follows:
– What does the presence of Bulgaria as an honored country at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) mean in regard to our bilateral relations?
First of all, let me express my deep gratitude to the President of Greece and a dear friend of mine, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, for her invitation and the opportunity to meet her within the framework of Thessaloniki International Fair, where a number of strategic economic areas are displayed.
For Bulgaria it is a great privilege to be the honored country in this prestigious International Fair. I believe that it is a recognition of the great potential of my country to exhibit our achievements in our economy, science, a number of strategic economic areas and sectors: to start with, in traditional ones like food industry, transport, tourism, machinery. But the focus this year is in the hi-tech in Bulgaria like IT, Artificial Intelligence, autonomous systems – you know, the future of the world! As well as space, communications, defense industry and, of course, very important – this is the background of everything – our achievements in the contemporary state-of-the-art systems for education and innovation.
Moreover, this Fair provides great opportunities to work together, to know each other better, to further deepen our strategic relations in many areas of mutual interest. And I hope – and I have already seen just walking at the exhibition – a number of people already holding discussions and negotiating. So I expect a lot of new partnerships between Greek and Bulgarian companies.
– How do you assess the bilateral relations between Greece and Bulgaria? Are there areas where cooperation could be further deepened?
For sure, there is room in many areas of mutual interest. But let me start by saying that our political relations have never been better. And this is vitally important because Bulgaria and Greece are not just neighbors. I believe that both our countries have proven that Balkan states are able to overcome the problems of the past and forge strategic relations based on our shared European values and principles, and this is what we have been doing, both countries together and being member countries of NATO and EU.
Bulgaria and Greece form a strategic axis of stability, which provides stability and perspectives for sustainable development and growth for the entire region. This is an important issue. And based on this, of course, we can go further and rely on our political relations as a solid foundation and we can further deepen our relations. For instance, we are highly interested in the plans for the future development and management of the ports of Kavala and Alexandroupolis, especially in the light of the blocked trade routes in the Black Sea due to the war in Ukraine. It provides enormous opportunities for our two countries. Moreover we can contribute to the grain deal, we can contribute to the security and prosperity of many other countries. So it is another very strong, powerful corridor of friendship, and we need to take advantage of this.
– Bulgaria claims the role of an energy hub in the Balkans, but so does Greece. In your opinion, and given the existing cooperation in natural gas projects such as IGB, can the two countries work together as a single energy axis?
First of all, I want to be clear – Bulgaria and Greece are not competitors. We are close, trusted reliable partners, and this is vitally important to us. We have done a lot and I believe we can do much more. And the key here is that the war in Ukraine has profoundly changed our thinking, our perception – what neighborhood and solidarity mean. For instance, last year in April, when Russia cut off the energy, the gas supply to Bulgaria, we resorted in an emergency to Greece. And we highly appreciated your invaluable support when you granted us access to your LNG terminal in Revythoussa, and to your gas transportation system. That was enormous support for us in a very difficult time for my country.
On the other hand, Bulgaria – being the largest electricity exporter in the region – intensified electricity supply to Greece in the heat of the energy crisis. So this is a perfect example of how we cooperate, how we help each other in times of crisis. And based on the strong political will and shared vision with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Sakellaropoulou about the European future of our region, within the last years we scored a substantial progress in our strategic projects. Like, you remember last year in October we launched the gas interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria, proving that Greece and Bulgaria alone can design and build such a pipeline, providing the long-awaited energy diversification and security for the whole of Eastern Europe and changing – so to say – the energy map of Europe in a very good, positive direction.
Also we succeeded in enlarging the (Bulgarian) capacity in the LNG terminal of Alexandroupolis, where Bulgaria is a shareholder by 20%. Something also very important, we signed an agreement about the oil pipeline from Alexandroupolis to Burgas. This is very important for securing the supply for the entire region. During the same visit – it was in February when I visited Prime Minister Mitsotakis and President Sakellaropoulou – we also signed an agreement for the security of gas supply and gas storage. So now Bulgaria can book slots and reserve capacity at your LNG terminals.
On the other hand, your companies can book slots and reserve capacity in our underground gas storage. Also we are about to finalize the high-voltage power grid between Maritsa Energy Complex and Nea Santa. We are going to finalize the Memorandum of Understanding for the Sea2Sea multimodelled transport corridor. This is our future, vitally important for both our countries and our region, connecting Thessaloniki, Kavala, Alexandroupolis, Burgas, Varna and Ruse. We proposed even to enlarge, to further continue this corridor to Constanța in Romania, so to expand this strategic axis of stability, Athens-Sofia-Bucharest. Also we are going to finalize the agreement about the management of the port in Kavala.
All those are strategic projects, and recent challenges showed clearly that we can unleash our economic potential, only provided we are working together. This is the formula of success. We have proven recently that the key for success lays in our ability to think together, to plan our future together, to develop a joint vision about the future of our region, to supply energy resources together, to develop new technologies together, to build new energy facilities together, to integrate our energy storage, to better stabilize and balance our energy systems, to integrate our transport corridors and sea ports. This is how the system works. In many occasions I have already stated that for us in Bulgaria, the area of Alexandroupolis is a strategic center of gravity. Through the LNG terminal, the gas interconnector, the sea port, the Sea2Sea project, the Alexandroupolis-Bourgas oil pipeline, also the future NATO fuel pipeline, also starting from Alexandroupolis. So you can see how many strategic projects we have, and they are vitally important for my country. But without Bulgaria, Greece cannot fully unleash its potential in energy, in transport, in many other areas. So we need just to stand together, and this is what we have been showing.
– The climate crisis is present and it seems that it’s here to stay. What could we as countries of the region and members of the EU do so as to avoid witnessing scenes of mass destruction such the recent ones in Greece, also Bulgaria, and elsewhere?
Let me first express my condolences for the victims of the recent floods in your country. We also have victims from the floods. Both of us face similar problems, like floods, like fires. We have already been working together. This year we have twice deployed firefighting teams to help you overcome devastating fires. And climate change is a global challenge which demands a global answer. That’s why green economy, low carbon economy, resource efficient economy requires integration of investment policies, the private sector, the public sector and science. And I believe that we need to work more intensively to share information, share technologies, integrate our systems to better prevent disasters in this way.
Thessaloniki International Fair is a brilliant example where we have a lot of technologies oriented towards this direction. And we need just to work together on a more regular basis, and in my meeting today (Monday) with President Sakellaropoulou I hope that we are going to discuss how we can better integrate our weather forecast systems and our early warning systems. I know that in Greece your system has been fully operational about early warning so every citizen, every guest of your country can receive timely information about a coming disaster. We have been testing the same system and we are going to launch it in the next months.
– On a regional level, does the issue of the Bulgarian minority still remain a “red line” for you as far as the lifting of the veto on North Macedonia’s European path is concerned?
Bulgaria as well as Greece has always been a driving engine for the integration of the Western Balkans. It is true that we have complex relations with the Republic of North Macedonia. But our problems have a simple solution, and it is called the Copenhagen criteria for accession, and respect of human rights. We should not speak anymore about a Bulgarian veto. It is vitally important to use the right terminology in international relations. There is a clear European Council conclusion from July last year describing in detail the negotiation framework. So it lays down all European – not Bulgarian – requirements towards the Republic of North Macedonia to start the negotiations, to be a member of the European Union. These European requirements clearly state that the Republic of North Macedonia should amend its Constitution to provide the opportunity for the Bulgarian civilians in this country to have constitutional protection and equal rights. To be included in their Constitution on an equal footing like the other governing founding peoples.
This is a purely European requirement based on European principles. And the negotiation framework accepted by the Republic of North Macedonia also clearly states that the rights of the Bulgarians living in the Republic of North Macedonia should be respected and protected as well. Also, the hate speech and the physical violence against Bulgarians living in North Macedonia should be rooted out. Also our history and cultural heritage should be respected and protected, and in this specific area I believe Greece could understand us best.
But I truly believe that the leadership in Skopje will focus its efforts on working very hard to fulfil the European requirements and to depart from some old political battles. I believe that our brothers in North Macedonia will as soon as possible embrace European principles and values for the better future of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia, for the better perspective and future of all of us living in the Balkans.