BTA News

Varna Hosts BTA’s “Europe in the Balkans” Conference

BTA Director General Kiril Valchev opened the conference by saying that we must show Bulgaria’s contribution to the European Union, instead of only showing the contribution of European funds to Bulgaria. According to Valchev, the idea of the conferences is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of cohesion policy, as well as raise more awareness to projects that are financed by the European Union and to present the results of such projects at the local level. In addition, the conferences organized by BTA develop Bulgaria’s contribution to the European Union in rapprochement with its neighbours, noted Valchev.

Valchev pointed out Bulgaria’s contribution to the European research on Antarctica, as the country is the sixth in the European Union with a scientific research vessel in the Southern Ocean. “Of 50 countries in Europe, only 11 have a scientific research vessel that explores Antarctica. This contribution of Bulgaria is of great weight, because it allows Europe to match the countries in South America, and the Bulgarian ship closely interacts on behalf of all of Europe with the Argentine Armada”, Valchev added. He compared some of Bulgaria’s contribution to world science and recalled that Bulgaria is also the sixth country in the world with its own cosmonaut. For this reason BTA will issue a special issue of LIK magazine in April, dedicated to the 45th anniversary of Georgi Ivanov’s flight in 1979. Valchev said that through its archives, BTA will present Bulgaria’s contribution to space research, which continues even today for the European Union.

Varna Mayor Blagomir Kotsev said that Varna has received a twinning request from the city of Ohrid in North Macedonia and that this is an exceptional opportunity to bring closer together not just the two cities but also their respective countries. The Mayor added that he welcomes the efforts of all Balkan countries that are following Bulgaria’s example on their path toward future European Union membership. “Varna is an example of how Balkan cities can develop successfully. Potential cooperation like the one with Ohrid, which I believe will happen, would give us the opportunity to show how European funds can contribute to the development of the Balkan region,” he said.

Dr Viktoria Nikolova, Manager of the Regional Information Center, said that as at December 31, 2023 a total of 3,900 projects with a value of over BGN 900 million were implemented in Varna Region during the 2014-2020 programming period. The majority of projects were implemented under Operational Programme Innovations and Competitiveness, while the smallest number of projects were implemented under Operational Programme Transport and Transport Infrastructure. The most funds were invested under Operational Programme Environment, with a total value of over BGN 270 million, while the smallest amount of investments were made with the support of Operational Programme Good Governance – a little over BGN 1.8 million, said Nikolova. She added that Varna Municipality has the largest number of projects (3,017 projects worth nearly BGN 480 million), followed by Aksakovo Municipality (162 projects) and Dolni Chiflik (91 projects).

Prof Miroslav Tsvetkov, head of the Scientific Section at the Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy in Varna (NVNA), said that NVNA is developing projects for financing from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, and official information on the launch of a project is expected within two months. According to Tsvetkov, the projects will be related to the opportunities for the development of aquaculture in the exclusive economic zone of Bulgaria. He presented the work of the academy, focusing on various project initiatives that have been implemented with funding from the EU, and also presented the largest laboratory for space research in Bulgaria, which was opened at the end of February at NVNA. Tsvetkov emphasised the work of the educational institution with the two European agencies related to space – the European Union Agency for the Space Programme and the European Space Agency, adding that there are already completed projects related to the observation of Earth from space. Tsvetkov also said that with the new laboratory, NVNA is also entering into the activity related to the construction of space infrastructure, namely the integration of the so-called small satellites – weighing up to about 35 kilograms.

Prof Bistra Vasileva, Vice-Rector for Research, Innovation and Professional Development at the Varna University of Economics, said that the universities in Varna will try to make a common project, which will mark a good step towards cohesion in research. “Over the years, especially when it comes to rapprochement, projects have started to be seen as something with which we can absorb some money. I already look from an Anglo-Saxon point of view, where money is given when results are achieved,” Vasileva added. She commented that technology is one of the opportunities to attract digital nomads to Varna.

Galina Ivanova, head of the Northeast Region Department of the Main Directorate for Strategic Planning and Programmes for Regional Development at the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, said that during the 2021-2027 period, an integrated territorial approach will be implemented in Bulgaria. According to her, the integrated territorial approach is implemented through the instrument of Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI) on the basis of approved integrated territorial strategies for the development of the regions. Several programmes are involved in the approach, the leading one being Regional Development, Ivanova pointed out. She said that the Regional Development Council is involved in the process of selecting the concepts for the ITI, and that a total of 165 concepts were submitted by the ITI concept submission deadline of September 27, 2023, and 14 of these have successfully passed the evaluation stage. She gave examples of successfully implemented projects in Varna Region under Operational Programme Regions in Growth 2014-2020, such as the projects for the modernization of the urban environment in Varna and the construction of a care center for persons with various forms of dementia.

Tashka Gabrovska, State Expert in the Programming and Negotiation Department at the Main Directorate for European Funds, International Programmes and Projects at the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, said that more than 75,000 children and young people in Bulgaria are supported by the European Social Fund through Operational Programme Human Resources Development. She added that foster care was developed through the programme and that many young people who came out of institutions received a wide package of services for integration into society. “We provide funds through our measures mainly in the sphere of the labour market, employment, training and access to social services,” stated Gabrovska. According to her, through Operational Programme Education large financial resources are also being allocated in the region, so that measures are being developed to enable people who have left the education system to acquire knowledge and competencies through various tools that will help them succeed in the labour market. “Among the main contributions that we can note in this area is the possibility of training through vouchers. From 2007 to today, almost 560,000 people have undergone such training, which reflects the investment in human capital. Employers they also had the opportunity to receive funding for training in company-specific skills,” Gabrovska added. “For young people with disabilities, in addition to training, subsidized employment for up to 24 months was provided so that they could adapt and acquire work habits”, she noted.

Suvorovo Deputy Mayor Valcho Valchev said that municipalities must be more flexible in utilizing the European funds they can benefit from. According to him, obtaining certain amounts under operational programmes through various projects should not be an end in itself. He was categorical that investments should not be chaotic, but should be made after a thorough analysis of the needs of certain regions of the country. “Suvorovo usually occupies an average position when it comes to the development of municipalities. We are doing our best to stay at a good level and succeed in spending money from various programmes and funds wisely”, he added.

Yoanna Yoveva, Chief Environmental Expert in Beloslav Municipality, and Nadya Dimitrova, Legal Advisor at the Investment Policy and Auxiliary Activities Directorate in Beloslav Municipality, presented the implemented Demonstration Model for the Prevention and Recycling of Household Waste in the municipality and stated that the aim of the project for domestic waste in Beloslav is to reduce landfilled waste and increase separately collected waste by teaching people that separate garbage collection is not that difficult. Yoveva pointed out that starting in 2025, the legislation on setting household waste fees will change and people will start paying a household waste fee based on the amount they throw away. The project was financed under Operational Programme Environment 2014-2020, with a total value of nearly BGN 390,000. Dimitrova noted that the companies that organize separate collection face the challenge of dispersing waste everywhere, which is why underground receptacles were built. She noted that specialized equipment was also delivered for the implementation of the project, as a truck crane for emptying the underground containers was needed.

The project “Europe in the Balkans: A Common Future” is implemented by BTA with support from the European Commission. It builds on a past project, “Europe in Bulgaria: A Common Future”, and aims to foster a better understanding of the role of the cohesion policy in the Balkans; to raise awareness of projects funded by the EU through the Cohesion Funds; promote dialogue on the results of the projects at local level and boost civic participation in issues related to cohesion policy.

So far conferences have been held in Ruse, Razgrad, Veliko Tarnovo, Silistra, Gabrovo, Burgas, Sliven, Yambol, Haskovo, Stara Zagora, Kazanlak, Kyustendil, Pernik and Samokov, and cross-border conferences in Bucharest, Edirne and Skopje. Until August, discussions will be held in the BTA press clubs across Bulgaria as well as in Belgrade, Bosilegrad and Thessaloniki.

The “Europe in the Balkans: A Common Future” project is funded with EUR 348,871. To achieve the project’s aims, BTA is using a media mix and expects to reach out to between 700,000 and 1 million people in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece and Turkiye.