DEF IX – Assen Vassilev: Energy collaboration a ‘key’ in Greek-Bulgarian relations

The fundamental importance of the Vertical Corridor in Europe and the strategic position of Alexandroupolis, which is the “key” of the wider energy planning in the region, was underlined by Assen Vassilev, member of the Bulgarian Parliament and former finance minister of Bulgaria (2023-2024), in a discussion with Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) President and Director General Aimilios Perdikaris at the 9th Delphi Economic Forum on Wednesday.

“With the war, in Ukraine we know very well that the Black Sea is essentially closed as an economic zone. Insurance costs are high, navigation (through this route) is dangerous, so we need what was coming through the Black Sea to now start arriving through the Mediterranean, that is why the construction of the Corridor from Alexandroupolis is ‘key’ for both Bulgaria and Greece,” Vassilev said.

The Bulgarian deputy referred extensively to Greek-Bulgarian cooperation in the energy sector, both through the IGB gas pipeline and the electrical interconnection of the two countries, as well as to the need to strengthen the road and railway network between the two countries.

“We have managed to build interconnectivity networks in terms of natural gas and we are expanding them, we have also doubled the interconnectivity in electricity networks, which has helped both networks, as they complement each other, and we are working on an intergovernmental agreement with Greece to develop a highway and a high-speed rail line connecting Alexandroupolis, via Bulgaria, with Romania, Moldova, Ukraine and other European countries,” he said.

The Bulgarian official stressed that all of the above, combined with the activation of Schengen rules in transport and land borders – something that is not yet in place – will pave the way for the ports of Northern Greece to become the gateway for many of the goods destined for Southeastern Europe. “I expect this will be a win-win situation for Bulgaria and Greece,” he noted.

He noted that such a development will be beneficial for the further development of relations between the two countries, noting that “we will be able to organize summer (English) programs for young people so that they can get to know each other better.” These kinds of initiatives “promote cultural ties, cooperation and even future business synergies”, Vassilev stressed.

Vassilev also referred to the many Bulgarian tourists who visit Greece every year, noting that they are the third largest group of tourists who choose a Greek destination for their holidays, and to the cooperation that many businesses, as he underlined, that has already developed between the two countries.

Asked to comment on the fact that Bulgaria is once again heading to the polls (the sixth election since April 2021), the former finance minister noted that despite political instability there is economic growth in the country and investment, attributing this partly to the fact that Bulgaria has changed its economic outlook in recent years.

He also noted that over the last three years Bulgaria has made remarkable progress towards a European way of thinking, a fact reflected in public opinion polls, with 75 per cent of citizens in favor of the European Union and pro-Russian parties losing their electoral percentages. “Despite the very active Russian propaganda campaign, we have managed to a large extent to change the way of thinking of the Bulgarian population,” he said, estimating that it would now be very difficult to achieve a new shift towards Russia.