Bulgaria and Romania are on the lookout for investors in three big regional infrastructure projects, following a joint session of the heads of government on Tuesday (3 October), Bulgarian media reported.
The two Balkan countries aim to build a second bridge over the Danube, connecting the Bulgarian city of Ruse and the Romanian city of Giurgiu, in an attempt to improve infrastructure connectivity in the region and attract more foreign investment.
— Radio Bulgaria (@RB_English) September 10, 2017
The existing 63-year-old bridge is struggling to cope with heavy traffic. Data shows that more than 1.37 million vehicles crossed it in the first eight months of 2017, compared to about 750,000 in the same period last year.
The new 3km construction, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the Balkans, will be the third bridge connecting Bulgaria and Romania across the Danube along their shared 470km river border.
Experts say the construction of the new bridge would cost about €250 million.
“I am convinced that a third bridge will boost business and tourism,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said after meeting his Romanian counterpart Mihai Tudose at the meeting in the Bulgarian port city of Varna.
The two heads of government also opened a new border crossing point between Kainardja, in Bulgaria’s Silistra district and Lipnita, on the Romanian side, the fourth such crossing on their 150km land border.
— Dragoş Ioniţă (@DragosIonita) October 3, 2017
Borissov said the two countries are also looking for investors for two more infrastructure projects – another bridge over the Danube, between Nikopol and Turnu Magurele, as well as a 200km motorway linking Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta with Varna and Burgas.
Tudose expressed his optimism that Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, would be admitted to the bloc’s internal border-free Schengen travel zone, describing the two countries as “islands of safety for citizens”.
Both Bulgaria and Romania have been considered fit by the Commission to join the borderless Schengen space since 2010. However, admission requires unanimity and they have been blocked by member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, mainly due to electoral concerns in the older EU members.
In his recent State of the Union speech, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU needed to open up the Schengen space “immediately”. He added that Croatia should also be admitted once the newest EU member fulfills the necessary criteria,
Tudose said that Romania and Bulgaria were “condemned” to be treated as a couple by the EU but added that within one year at most he expected both to join Schengen.
Borissov said the two leaders had agreed to meet each month. “We are not going to lose another 20 years being on the periphery of Europe and looking at the centre, forgetting to look at our neighbours,” the Bulgarian PM insisted.
The Bulgarian ministry of energy announced that the system operators of the two countries had signed an agreement for mutual assistance in case of emergency requests for supply of electricity.
Last January, Bulgaria asked Romania to provide emergency power but Bucharest refused, as consumption had peaked in both countries under unusually fierce winter conditions.
This time the agreement ensures that emergency assistance will be granted for up to one hour following the request, and that the power will come from reserves, without affecting national consumption.
Borissov and Tudose were joined by the prime minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras and the president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić.
— Boyko Borissov (@BoykoBorissov) October 3, 2017
Bulgaria and Greece have also recently signed a package of infrastructure projects, hoping to attract foreign investment.
Last July, the EU pledged more support for Balkan infrastructure projects.
Borissov said the EU should rest assured that four countries were not going to be “another Visegrad” but would strive for better European integration.
The move can be seen as a belated reaction following increasing investments in the region by China, which is carving a sphere of influence not only in the Balkans but in a wider region. Bulgaria takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency as of January while Romania will assume the role in 2019.