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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 19,859 15,608 13,600 69
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,130 1,790 1,650 106
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Bulgaria


Update No: 151 - (16/12/09)

The overriding issue for Bulgaria is further integration into the EU, which it joined with Romania in January 2007, exactly three years ago.

The next big step is joining the euro zone, a colossal matter economically and politically. There is no point in denying that there is a surrender of some sovereignty involved. The Bulgarians are not so prickly about this as, say, the British, because they lived for decades in COMECON, the communist-era economic community in Eastern and Central Europe, a rather less successful affair than the ‘Common Market’, as it was called at the time.

Into the euro zone
Bulgaria fulfils to a large extent the criteria for euro zone membership, not only for ERM 2 accession, Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) governor Ivan Iskrov told an economic forum in early December. Even in respect to the tougher requirements, such as debt-to-GDP ratio or deficit, Bulgaria performs much better than some euro zone member states, he added.

“We cannot yet give a specific date, but the government and the BNB will do their best for Bulgaria to join ERM 2 and, a little later, the euro zone,” Iskrov pointed out. According to plans, Bulgaria will submit its ERM 2 application documents in early 2010, a positive reply may be received within the year. The euro will not be adopted in Bulgaria before 2012.

The adoption of the euro is considered a technical question but it is also a serious political process, Iskrov underscored. Euro zone membership is not a privilege but an obligation. It will become a fact when the 16 euro zone members, the four ERM 2 members and the European Central Bank decide that Bulgaria deserves it.

Bulgaria has survived the financial crisis without receiving financial support from abroad, unlike other Central European countries. That means that Bulgaria does not contribute risk to the euro zone - just the opposite. It is a factor that reduces risk, Open Society Institute's Georgi Angelov said, explaining why Bulgaria deserves to be included in the euro zone. In his words, the concerns of the European Central Bank are the fruit of imagination, rather than of real economic processes.

Swiss funds on the way
However, the Swiss are about to extend assistance, which is going to advance the expertise of entrepreneurship in Bulgaria, an art in which the Swiss are of course world beaters.

The Swiss Parliament has approved funding of SFr257 million ($252 million) for Romania and Bulgaria as a contribution towards cohesion in the expanding European Union. The Senate on December 7th followed the House of Representatives in granting financial support despite opposition by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

Romania by reason of its size will gain the bulk of the money – SFr181 million – and the remainder will go to Bulgaria. The money will be used for the promotion of private companies, infrastructure and environment projects.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had “every interest in seeing these two countries integrated, because it strengthens stability, security and prosperity on the European continent, from which the Swiss also benefit.” Radical party Senator Dick Marty said the programmes would be managed jointly with local partners to ensure that the money is spent according to the rules. He added that corruption and bad governance existed in the two countries.

Voters three years ago approved a funding package for new EU countries in central and eastern Europe. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but it has concluded more than 20 major bilateral accords with its main trading partner.

President on visit to Greece
Relations with fellow Balkan Greece are very important, as the Greeks are the major foreign investors in the region. On the second and last day of his state visit to Greece in early December, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov met with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

The two men confirmed their countries' will to work for the major energy projects, Purvanov told reporters in Athens. The Bulgarian head of state said that work for the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline is connected with the provision of more guarantees for environmental security in respect to Bulgaria, Greece and the region. Next week the ministers of environment of Bulgaria and Greece will meet to discuss environmental aspects of the project, as well as such concerning some of the planned border checkpoints between the two neighbours.

The two officials also said that additional resources have to be mobilized for the quick completion of the gas link-up between the two countries, which is to go from Greece's Komotini via Dimitrovgrad and Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria.

Purvanov and his host also confirmed the two countries' will for intensive work to proceed on the Komotini-Kurdjali border checkpoint. The opening of local border checkpoints was discussed too.

Another item of the meeting between Purvanov and Papandreou was the European integration of the Western Balkans and the need to update the so-called Thessaloniki Agenda. Purvanov once again stressed the principle whereby each country that wants to accede to the EU should do so on the basis of the fulfilment of the membership criteria, as did Bulgaria.

Asked to comment the Greek initiative for accession to the EU of the countries of the Western Balkans by 2018, a deadline which Greece symbolically associates with the centennial anniversary of World War One. Purvanov said that, although this would be a symbolic year for the entire integration process to be completed, it is Brussels who will have the final say on the matter.

Purvanov said he reminded Papandreou about another forthcoming anniversary, the centennial anniversary of the end of the Balkan Wars. He said he wishes for all conflicts and tensions existing in the region to be solved by this anniversary.

On the second and last day of his state visit to Greece, Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov also conferred with Hieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. The two underscored the historic and spiritual relations between the peoples and the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria and Greece. President Purvanov said that with the EU membership of the countries the voice of the Orthodox Christianity could "resonate more distinctly."

The head of state voiced his gratitude for the church provided to the Bulgarian community in Athens. Metropolitan Nathanial of Nevrokop also voiced gratitude for the church and for the opportunity given to Bulgarians to worship in their mother tongue. Last year the church was named after St John of Rila, patron saint of Bulgaria, and services are conducted in Bulgarian.

Hieronymos II conveyed regards to Bulgaria's Patriarch Maksim.

Purvanov was presented with an icon triptych by the Archbishop.

The Zlatograd - Thermes border crossing is scheduled for opening by the end of 2009, Deputy Foreign Minister Marin Raikov, who is also on Purvanov's delegation, told reporters. Tuesday evening Raikov met with Greece's Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas to discuss the accelerated construction of the new border-crossing checkpoints between Bulgaria and Greece.

Raikov pointed out that the Bulgarian section of the road connecting Bulgaria and Greece is ready. Raikov explained that the construction of the Greek section is lagging slightly behind and expressed confidence that the delay will be made up.

Raikov and Droutsas discussed the reforms in the Western Balkan countries and the Greek initiative for setting a target deadline for their accession to the EU. The initiative will also be discussed in an European context.

The Macedonia naming dispute was also discussed at the meeting. Raikov pointed out that Bulgaria supports Macedonia's EU bid, but has some requirements which are part of the negotiation and integration process. He stressed that some prerequisites should be created and good neighbourly relations maintained before Macedonia joins the EU.

At a Bulgarian-Greek business forum opened by the presidents of the two countries Purvanov stressed the need to ensure a stronger presence of the Bulgarian business in Greece.

Purvanov said there are more than 4,000 Greek companies operating in Bulgaria whereas the investment interest of Bulgarian businesses towards Greece is not that big.

The question how to encourage Bulgarian business to invest in Greece was also discussed during the meeting between Purvanov and Papandreou earlier in the day.

At the business forum Purvanov noted the need for more efforts to improve infrastructure. He also dwelled on the opportunities for stronger cooperation in tourism.

An IKEA store will be opened in Sofia in mid-2011, it transpired after a meeting between Regional Development and Public Works Minister Rosen Plevneliev, investor Fourlis Group, and Danaos Group, which is planning to construct a shopping mall next to IKEA. Plevneliev was on the delegation of President Purvanov during his state visit to Greece.

Both projects will cost 300 million euro. The IKEA store will create some 800 jobs. Fourlis said that they are planning to open two more stores in Bulgaria: in Varna and somewhere between Plovdiv and Stara Zagora, according to Plevneliev. Bulgaria produces IKEA assembly components worth 45 million euro every year.

In Athens Plevneliev met Greek Infrastructure and Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas and Greece's Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas. The two sides highlighted the significance of more border crossings along the Bulgarian-Greek border.

The Bulgarian government and the Bulgarian President have carried out an extremely focused campaign towards the opening of the local Zlatograd-Thermes checkpoint, and priority work on the Kurdjali-Komotini checkpoint, which is also scheduled for opening, Plevneliev said. He voiced hope that within weeks a date will be set for the opening of the Zlatograd-Thermes border crossing. The Presidents of Bulgaria and Greece agreed that the Komotini-Kurdjali border crossing will be launched in 2010.

Two-way trade in 2008 totalled 2,870 million euro, making Greece this country's fifth largest trading partner (after Germany, Italy, Russia and Turkey). Bulgarian exports to Greece are dominated by textiles, base metals and electricity, and Greek exports to Bulgaria by textiles, minerals and chemical products, machinery and equipment, and base metals. In 1996-2008 Greece ranked fourth among the home countries of foreign investments in Bulgaria after Austria, the Netherlands and the UK, with a stock of 2,803 million euro. The biggest Greek investments in Bulgaria are in telecommunications and banking. Bulgarian investments in Greece total some 50.3 million euro.

According to Economy Ministry statistics, 843,547 Greek tourists visited Bulgaria in 2008, up 2 per cent year-on-year. Over the same period, 1,709,510 Bulgarians went to Greece, 84.8 per cent more than in 2007.

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