Business representative: ‘Cross-border cooperation is a broader European integration exercise’

Cargo ship sails into open sea from Varna, (Bulgaria) to Constanta (Romania). [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report From Calarasi to Vidin: common borders, common solutions.

Since 2014, the Romania-Bulgaria Interreg programme has helped to boost the economy on both sides of the border by promoting cross-border trade and boosting cooperation in tourism, agriculture and industry. EURACTIV spoke to a business representative of companies operating in the area.

Ion Dănuț Jugănaru is the director of the Chamber of Commerce of Constanța, Romania. He spoke to EURACTIV.ro’s Manuela Preoteasa.

Two centres of economic cooperation were established eight years ago through the joint actions of the Chamber of Commerce in Constanta, Romania, and Dobrich, Bulgaria, in a project financed with European funds. What has this cooperation meant for the development of the region, the business environment and the community?

The Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Naval Engineering and Agriculture (CCINA) of Constanța launched in 1998 the first Romania-Bulgaria cross-border cooperation project with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) of Dobrich. It was the first call for applications aimed at increasing the Romanian-Bulgarian cooperation.

A number of cross-border projects for business communities have been implemented since then. The ‘Chamber of Commerce of Bulgaria and Romania for cross-border cooperation’ project, as well as other projects, have kept the business environment in the two regions informed and supported the entrepreneurs to launch businesses and cooperates, providing them with the necessary tools: business events, entrepreneurial courses, specialized literature, databases etc., practically an environment dedicated to Romanian-Bulgarian cooperation.

The situation changed significantly during the 2014-2020 period when there were no financing measures specifically dedicated to business and economic cooperation, and the results from the previous years were no longer reached so intensively. This was on one hand, due to the impossibility of maintaining a relevant pace for cross-border activities and, on the other, due to the constant renewal of the business environment. The newly set-up companies did not have the chance to free and centralised access to information and specialized tools for either at CCINA Constanța or at CCI Dobrich.

What are the results of the project?

Two business and economic cooperation centres were set up in Constanța (Romania) and Dobrich (Bulgaria), to provide information, assistance, counselling and support services to companies interested in developing cross-border cooperation. The economic relations have been stimulated. According to statistical data by the National Institute of Statistics of Constanța (as of July 2018), Bulgaria ranks eighth among the top investors in Constanța county, where 87 companies with Bulgarian capital are registered. The volume of trade between the two countries increased in both 2016 and 2017.

The business partnership resulted in joint participation of Romanian and Bulgarian companies at fairs in Sofia and Plovdiv, business-to-business fairs in both Dobrich and Constanța; professional training for companies interested in cross-border activities; marketing studies on economic potential of the districts of Constanța and Dobrich, macroeconomic statistics about Romania and Bulgaria, foreign trade of Romania and Bulgaria, import-export guidelines Bulgaria Romania, European Union, United States of America, Russia, Asian countries, financial and regulatory regulations in trade, in Romania and Bulgaria, six sector profiles, of which three for Constanţa and three for Dobrich; and a Romanian-Bulgarian association for business cooperation was set up.

Specifically, what are the most representative activities of CCINA Constanta regarding the cross-border cooperation with the Southern neighbours?

CCINA Constanta has supported the trade between the two regions (the county of Constanta and the district of Dobrich) through business partnerships, brokerage events, fairs, exhibitions, company presentations, assistance for the setting up companies. Other activities consisted of promoting labour mobility and capitalising the potential cultural tourism in the Romanian-Bulgarian border region. 

In practical terms, what are the most representative actions the Chamber of Commerce of Constanța has carried out in terms of cross-border cooperation?

A number of projects have been funded through the CBC Romania-Bulgaria programme, including with pre-accession funds.

Euro Dobrogea, a resource centre for business and innovation, has modern facilities for conferences, documentation and helpdesk services, promotion actions.

Furthermore, three cross-border clusters were set up in Constanta and Dobrich in sectors like tourism, agriculture-food industry, innovation and creative industries; and the project financed sectorial studies and analysis and training for increasing the institutional capacity.

In the context of the Trans-Tour-Net, five pilot-projects were developed, and there were 50 tourist attractions in the Dobrogea region identified and promoted, and also virtual tours for tour operators and training for Romanian and Bulgarian students, from Constanta and Dobrich.

Among the projects funded under the INTERREG V Romania-Bulgaria programme is a strategy for a sustainable economy, aimed at protecting the natural and cultural resources in Romania and Bulgaria. Within the framework of that project, the cross-border strategy and a multi-annual plan for its dissemination were realised, a strategy implementation framework was established by building a network by the CCI in the Romanian-Bulgarian border area, and pilot activities were set up to implement the strategy.

Interreg also allowed us to develop and promote an integrated cultural tourism product, the route of the Roman border in the Romania-Bulgaria border region.

Another project, Mowe Up, helps to promote labour force mobility among, by creating a bilingual web platform for self-evaluation of knowledge, skills and abilities, career opportunities and mobility improvement.

As to create a sustainable model and a network of partners to support employment and mobility, the project ELMO, an online platform for the promotion of labour mobility in the cross-border region with an interactive map identifying the enterprises on the border, was created too.

Why are those results important in the European framework?

Such projects shed some light on the European dimension and they have allowed the introduction of EU principles and values, practices and disciplinary rules. We think it is reasonable to assume that without these programmes and projects, the peripheral areas of the two countries, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as our business environments, would have developed more slowly.

In an interview for local media eight years ago, you said that ‘nothing will stop from implementing projects of cooperation, not even the bureaucracy’. What would you say now, looking back?

The red tape, in its various forms, has remained almost the same, sometimes even increased in Romania (probably similarly in Bulgaria), even though the forms have changed. However, some specific steps have been taken, in order to reduce it. For instance, for the current project, we don’t need to sign each page, and send five copies of each document, as for the previous activities.

The projects are currently managed in an online platform; although recently modified, the regulations governing the programme are still too large, too detailed and sometimes lead to overwhelming bureaucracy for the implementation team, which sometimes exceeds the effort of the implementation. We still waste too much time and paper on detailed reports instead of spending effort on more useful activities and actions within the projects. I am convinced that there is still enough room for simplification in this area.

However, compared to the way other programmes are implemented in Romania, we believe that Interreg Romania-Bulgaria programmes are more approachable, including the bureaucracy, based on a constructive cooperation with programme management authorities.

But, since our regions are not very advanced in economic terms, any such funding initiatives can contribute to a sustainable development of the region. Projects funded through cross-border programmes have contributed to better economic relations between the two regions, and even to long-lasting friendships between the inhabitants of the border areas, which also had a positive impact on the touristic and cultural activities. We sincerely hope that during the next financial framework, we will benefit from increased amounts, which can be used to reduce the economic gap between less developed and well-developed member states.

If you could summarise what the cross-border cooperation means for Constanta region, what would you say?

Cross-border cooperation is a broader European integration exercise, of mutual understanding and cohabitation with neighbors and a sample of unique, non-replicable societal and economic development, which results are present in every locality of the Constanta County, keeping alive the collective consciousness of the neighbourhood, which is a part of both the Balkans region and the European area.

Is there anything else significantly relevant, concerning cross-border Romania – Bulgaria cooperation?

The cross-border cooperation activities from our projects helped solve problems of mutual interest that required joint action. Moreover, they have developed and strengthened collaborative relationships, partnerships between different bodies and institutions implementing projects in order to ensure consistency in attracting funds under cross-border cooperation programmes, leading to improved neighbourly relations.

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