Bulgaria and Kosovo increase co-operative efforts

10/12/2013

The two countries open a new chapter in relations and will focus on economic and trade co-operation as well as support for Kosovo's EU integration.

By Tzvetina Borisova and Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Sofia and Pristina -- 10/12/13

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Kosovo Foreign Affairs Minister Enver Hoxhaj (centre right) talks to Bulgarian counterpart Kristian Vigenin during his visit to Sofia on December 2nd. [Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs]

Pristina and Sofia agreed to work closely together at a time when Kosovo is taking concrete steps to enter the EU integration process while achieving results from the EU-mediated talks with Serbia.

Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj visited Sofia last week and said the two countries opened a new chapter in their relations.

"Bulgaria is one of Kosovo's strongest regional supporters and has been a supporter of the EU agenda for Kosovo ever since it proclaimed independence," Petrit Selimi, deputy foreign minister of Kosovo, told SETimes.

Kosovo has specifically asked for Bulgarian support and assistance on the EU path, following the signing of an agreement recently to enable transfer of EU-integration know-how to Kosovo.

"Bulgarian experience in the reform process is crucial as they also grappled with difficult issues of transition such as corruption and organised crime. Co-operation with Bulgaria for Kosovo is also part of the focus on establishing regional co-operation and good neighbourly ties," Selimi said.

Hoxhaj and Bulgarian counterpart Kristian Vigenin signed a memorandum of understanding on Euro-Atlantic integration.

Kosovo officials said Bulgaria steadfastly supports EU visa liberalisation for Kosovo -- the only regional country with a visa regime -- and membership in all the regional and international initiatives.

Relations will now also focus on deepening and widening economic, trade, educational and cultural co-operation.

The two ministers said the countries will establish a joint group to foster trade and economic co-operation.

They also said Bulgaria and Kosovo agreed to speed up efforts to sign a double taxation avoidance agreement and intensify negotiations on enforcing the agreement on international transportation of passengers and cargo.

Bulgaria Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski was invited to open a Bulgarian-Kosovo business forum at the beginning of next year, said Rayna Assenova, one of Bulgaria's leading analysts on Kosovo and Serbia and editor at the Bulgarian National News Agency (BTA).

"Kosovo would like 2014 to be a year of developing bilateral economic relations with Bulgaria. Kosovo is open to importing high-quality Bulgarian products and to welcoming Bulgarian companies known for their good experts," Assenova told SETimes.

Selimi said economic ties with Bulgaria are strengthening due to the proximity of the two countries and will build on the Kosovo businessmen's existing experience with Bulgaria.

Trade between the two countries has reached 60 million euros per year.

Bulgaria is an important NATO and EU member state and Kosovo should shape its co-operation with that country with its membership goal in mind, said Dren Doli, a researcher for the Kosovo Group for Legal and Political Studies in Pristina.

Doli said Kosovo faces similar structural and institutional problems that Bulgaria experienced in establishing the rule of law, public administration and market reforms.

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"Bulgaria can therefore assist Kosovo by means of expertise and know-how in overcoming these EU integration challenges and shorten the way to the EU," Doli told SETimes Doli added.

While the two countries had not paved a long-term strategy for economic co-operation, they will get much closer in the future, according to Ibrahim Rexhepi, director of the Kosovo Centre for Strategic and Social Research in Pristina.

"[This] especially at a time when Kosovo signs the stabilisation and association agreement with the EU, and even when it becomes part of it," Rexhepi, told SETimes.

What can Bulgaria and Kosovo do to further good neighbourly relations? Tell us what you think in the comments space.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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