The two neighboring countries seek new economic opportunities by expanding transport collaboration.
By Paul Ciocoiu and Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Bucharest and Sofia -- 22/11/12
Austrian European Commissioner for regional politics, Johannes Hahn (centre), shakes hands with Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (left) and the Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta during an inspection of the construction of the Calafat-Vidin bridge on the Danube River between Bulgaria and Romania on October 24th. [AFP]
A memorandum for sustainable development of transportation on the Danube's common sector and the completion of a second bridge spanning the river mark a new stage in regional economic co-operation by Bulgaria and Romania.
The steps also enhance the two countries' efforts to draw more EU funds, a chapter where Romania and Bulgaria seriously lag behind the other 25 communitarian states.
Last month, Romania Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his Bulgarian counterpart, Boiko Borisov, symbolically crossed the new 2.5-million euro bridge linking Vidin to Calafat by foot. The 1.8 kilometre-long bridge, the longest bridge spanning Danube, is now open only to pedestrians. The bridge, whose construction started five years ago, will open to rail and car traffic next year.
"This is a very important project for us. It is a medium and long-term investment," Augustin Hagiu, head of the Federation of Transport Operators in Romania, told SETimes.
"This bridge comes as a handy alternative to the already overcrowded customs point Giurgiu-Ruse. It is a helping hand reached to both transporters and tourists," he added.
Citizens also excited about the new route.
"I have spent my holidays in northern Greece over the past few years. This bridge fits me like a glove because it will significantly shorten my trip," Aurel Tudose, a small businessman in Craiova, a city in southwest Romania, told SETimes.
Officials on both sides highlight the positive effects of an enlarged infrastructure.
"The final challenge we face is the establishment of the joint Bulgarian-Romanian company that will manage Danube Bridge 2 after it becomes operational," the Bulgarian ministry of Transport, Information and Communications said in a statement to SETimes, noting that Bulgaria has already picked the members of its negotiating team.
The new bridge will not only contribute to the "improvement of the transport links between Central and Eastern Europe, but to the social and economic development of the region in the long term," the ministry added in the statement.
Earlier this month, the two countries signed a memorandum on sustainable development of fluvial transport on the common sector of Danube.
"The memorandum is an expression of Bulgaria and Romania's commitment to ensuring better shipping conditions along the Danube," the Bulgarian Transport ministry said. "It brings the two countries a step closer to combining their efforts for the achievement of this common goal and facilitates the implementation of the activities associated with the development of the inland waterways transport."
"It will also send a signal to the European Commission about the two countries' ambitions for deeper co-operation and contribution to the achievement of the goals of the Danube Strategy," the ministry said.
The Danube Strategy is an EU action plan that was concluded in 2010, which aims to enhance regional co-operation along the Danube, with an emphasis on improving connectivity, environment protection, prosperity of the region and governing system.
The agreement envisages three stages of common projects for improving river shipping conditions on the joint Danube sector – short term, till 2020, medium term, till 2030, and long term, till 2050, the Romanian ministry of Transport told SETimes.
The projects will be jointly assessed by an inter-ministerial committee. The common effort is even more important since the Danube ranges among Europe's main transport corridors, namely corridor 7.
Romania and Bulgaria attracted comparatively small shares of the European funds allotted in the 2007-2013 EU budget. Of the almost 20 billion euros allocated, Romania has only managed to draw 10 percent, while Bulgaria absorbed about 19 percent of its 6.9 billion euros, the lowest absorption rate in the EU.