Turkey and Bulgaria: Working across borders towards a common future by Egemen Bağış*
A proverb common in both Turkey and Bulgaria reads, “Don’t delay today’s work until tomorrow.” As a sign of not delaying today’s work, close cooperation between the two countries is currently under way. Turkey and Bulgaria share a common history. We share great friendship.
A high-level meeting held in Turkey between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in March 2012 was a milestone in Turkish-Bulgarian relations. A memorandum of understanding on energy cooperation between Turkey and Bulgaria was signed during Borisov’s visit, along with 16 other agreements in the areas of the economy, tourism, culture, communication and transportation.
In another positive development, foreign trade is also on the rise between Turkey and Bulgaria. The bilateral trade volume was just $42 million in 1990. This number increased nearly a hundredfold in 2011 to reach $4 billion. However, we do not consider that figure a sufficient one. We will reciprocally exert efforts to improve that further. Businesspeople from Turkey greatly prefer to invest in Bulgaria among the Balkan countries. Bulgaria is attractive for Turkish businesspeople because it is the first stop on Turkey’s commerce route to the EU. On the other hand, the dynamic and liberal Turkish market seems to be attractive for Bulgarian businesspeople as well.
Economic and political collaboration between the two countries is supported by cross-border projects as well. The Turkey-Bulgaria IPA Cross Border Cooperation Program aims to achieve sustainable development and strengthen Bulgaria-Turkey cross-border cooperation to solidify European cooperation and integration.
Positive cultural relations also tend to dominate today. The Turkish community in Bulgaria serves as a bridge between the two countries. Turks in Bulgaria as citizens with equal rights are making important contributions to Bulgaria’s stability, prosperity and development. As a new cultural initiative, Prime Minister Erdoğan announced the upcoming opening of Bulgarian culture centers in Turkey and Turkish culture centers in Bulgaria. Both countries’ tourism may be boosted through the ease of ferry and rail trips between Turkey and Bulgaria. Turkey’s visa exemption for Bulgarian citizens, in place since July 1, 2001, has led to a considerable increase in the number of tourists traveling from Bulgaria to Turkey. Turkey ranked first among the countries visited in by Bulgarian citizens for touristic purposes in 2010.
Once Bulgaria became a NATO member, the two neighbors set up close cooperation in the security field as well. As a NATO and and EU member state, Bulgaria supports Turkey’s EU bid. Turkey is fully committed to the EU process and determined to advance its reform agenda. During the last decade Turkey has experienced a silent revolution in the political, economic, social and legal spheres.
Turkish-Bulgarian relations have made considerable progress in many spheres in the last two decades. The close and constructive relations between the two countries based on the perspective of full integration with Euro-Atlantic structures contribute to the projection of democratic values, stability and prosperity in the whole region. While Turkey and Bulgaria enjoy good neighborly relations, they are also allies in NATO, partners in the EU and in various regional platforms such as the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP).
In order to improve bilateral relations to the benefit of our peoples, we favor a future-oriented approach focused on exploring the opportunities that lie ahead instead of preoccupation with the controversial issues of the past. Our countries not only share a common history, they also have a common future.
*Egemen Bağış is Turkey’s EU affairs minister.