Novinite.com is interviewing the ambassadors of EU member states, Bulgaria's main trading partners and neighbouring countries. Here we provide an interview with Spain's Ambassador to Bulgaria, H. E. Jose Luis Tapia.
H.E. Josй Luis Tapia Vicente, has a degree in Economic Science, and a Diploma of International Studies of the Diplomatic School. He was born on August 25, 1948, in Bйjar (Salamanca).
He began his diplomatic career in 1978, and has served in the Spanish diplomatic missions in New Delhi, Moscow, Brussels (at the EEC/EU), Montevideo, Quito, Tripoli, Havana. He has been a Plenipotentiary Minister since 29/09/2006.
What major bilateral projects are currently in the making?
The bilateral relations between Spain and Bulgaria encompass a wide range of cooperation opportunities that co-exist and develop simultaneously, but at the same time independently from one another.
In terms of economics, our priority is strenghtening of the bilateral trade relations and increasing the investment inflow from Spain to Bulgaria and vice versa. We are collaborating with both Spanish and Bulgarian institutions, as well as with private operators in the direction of improving levels of goods exchange.
Data regarding the past three month period of 2014 shows that Spanish investment in Bulgaria is estimated at EUR 1,018 B. This puts my country on the thirteenth spot in terms of foreign investment. We aim at further strengthening the exchange, but in order for that to happen, Bulgaria needs to send a positive message to the foreign investors.
This challenge is very much connected to the main requirements of any investor, such as law enforcement procedures to serve as a guarantee for the sustainability of any project. In that sense both Spain and Bulgaria join efforts with the purpose of overcoming it.
Examples I could point out are the seminars on specialization and improvement that Spanish judges and prosecutors are periodically conducting in Bulgaria in collaboration with the Bulgarian Judiciary Institute, as well as the meetings of our countries' chief prosecutors with the purpose of exchanging experiences and contributions to the improvement of the systems.
Those projects also result in concrete goals, beneficial to both Bulgaria and Spain, but also to the remaining EU member states. The newly accepted Strategy on the judiciary reform in Bulgaria is a good example of collaboration and knowledge exchange, as it allowed for the Bulgarian strategy to include some basic principles that also direct the organizational model of the Spanish Prosecutor's Office and can easily be transferred to the Bulgarian reality.
The high number of Bulgarian citizens living in Spain has also resulted in the establishing of very close connections between the two countries. There currently are 300,000 Bulgarians integrated in my country, so there are ample opportunities for the strenghtening of employability, economic, social, intellectual and cultural relations.
I would also point out the immaterial asset that any Bulgarian citizen could obtain over this bilateral relationship - the Spanish language. Our language is ever more valued in Bulgaria, as an instrument for work and a future, opening doors on all continents. Over 500 M people in the world speak Spanish. New generations in all countries realize its importance.
This is the reason why cultural and educational projects are one of the main lines followed when we determine our priorities. We currently have important projects on collaboration in the fields of culture and education. Their main differentiation point is the longevity of the commitments and the optimal results for societies in both countries. The governments of our countries are also expected to sign and broaden their collaboration agreements of 1980 in the above mentioned areas. From then on, our relations will follow a line of mutual interest and the realities of life dictate for the agreements to set up ever more ambitious goals and to encompass higher number of fields. It is no coincidence that an ever higher number of Bulgarian students are learning Spain and ever more Bulgarian citizens are currently living in Spain.
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges in bilateral relations?
As I already mentioned, the most significant challenge is for us to rely upon stability in politics, social and economic environment, and of course the judiciary.
Stability is the propeller of growth. Trust is built on that basis and allows for fast advancement in all areas of interest for us. This is the reason why the Spanish Embassy emphasizes the need to rely on the desired climate of justice enforcement in Bulgaria. This will be seen as definite a positive sign for advancement.
Also, both Bulgaria and Spain need to adapt to the new times and the imperatives of the current regional and international issues. The situation obliges us to strengthen our cooperation in the fields of increased interest, such as control over external borders, management of the migrational influx and the number of asylum seekers. It is well known that Spain has had long and widely acknowledged experience in this field due to the increased migrational pressures, concentrated predominantly at our southern border. This is an especially sensitive region with over 20,000 attempts for crossing of the border fence only in 2014.
Our policies, structures and operational systems, that have been developed over the years, are useful for effective dealing with the new challenges that Bulgaria also faces. Meanwhile, both countries work together in the EU - a natural platform for improvement and cooperation, in an attempt to improve management of border control through unified coordinated activities with a positive result for the entire EU.
In my response to your first question, I also briefly mentioned the fields of education and culture that are also of primary importance in our bilateral relations. Many Bulgarian citizens are seeking cultural or educational exchange opportunities either in Spain itself, or at least in Spanish language. We need to respond to this ever increasing demand with the best offers.
The main challenges are for us to retain and broaden the currently existing collaboration agreements, as a unified framework for further development of our programs. We are also reviewing new fields of interaction that will definitely have a positive effect upon both countries.
Let us remember that Bulgaria and Spain are located at both ends of the EU - to the east and west, they border on countries with Muslim populations; we represent the Iberoamerican world, and Bulgaria - the Slavonic one. We both encompass a very broad geographical, social and naturally, a cultural spectre. This is the reason why, despite the geographical distance, we have a potential that we need to develop in the fields of culture, trade, migration, military and defense collaboration.
We could say that this is the picture at the moment and it reflects the challenges in our bilateral relations.
Where do you see the greatest potential for cooperation and untapped opportunities?
As a continuation to my reflections regarding the challenges in our bilateral relations, I believe that a possible collaboration of our two countries in the fields of agriculture and stock breeding for example could have a very positive impact. Those primary economic sectors of the corresponding countries have a number of similarities, but have developed over different conditions. This causes interesting synergies between Spain and Bulgaria in this particular sector.
Spain has walked a long way in the field and has its own funding mechanisms, such as the public company TRAGSA, specialized in agriculture. It has long-standing experience and could be useful to the Bulgarian sector policies.
On the other hand, Spanish experience in the renewable energy sector is also an important asset that can be further developed in Bulgaria. For that purpose, however, it is mandatory that there is a stable and predictable regulatory framework that would benefit the sustainability of foreign investments as opposed to threaten them. The prestige of Spanish companies in the renewable energy sector is undoubted. Companies such as Gamesa, Acciona Energy, Iberdrola, Tecnicas Reunidas, Ferrovial, Abengoa and many more have executed large-scale projects in the fields of wind, photovoltaic and biomass-generated energy. There are close to 60,000 solar installations in Spain with a total capacity of 4.500MW.
I could also list several other sectors, in which Spain is a world leader and offers ample opportunities for cooperation with Bulgaria. Management of water resources, development of aquacultures, healthcare, where Spain is leader in the field of transplantations, and ship construction, infrastructure, improvement of the taxation and administrative systems are among them.
I believe that the path of economic recovery that Spain has undertaken needs to be expressed through the reinstatement of trust on the part of our investors and firms. If economic agents receive the corresponding messages and feel a climate of stability and security, they can review their business projects in the chosen fields.
How are Bulgaria and Bulgarians perceived by your compatriots?
For the regular Spanish person, Bulgaria is an unknown country; they start discovering it just now, thanks to the emigration and the bilateral contracts between our two governments. Through this opportunity over 4,500 students to learn Spanish in Bulgarian high schools. If we take into consideration all educational levels, including universities, currently over 23,000 students in Bulgaria are developing their Spanish skills.
It is known that there is a considerable Bulgarian community in Spain, amounting to over 300,000 people and this inevitably facilitates the process of shortening the distance between the two nations in a natural way. Th fact that Spanish language is one of the most popular among Bulgarian citizens to a large extent encourages the mutual process of getting to know the opposite side. It also causes higher interest for the strengthening of the acquired knowledge.
When it comes to tourism, for example, Spain is also very attractive for Bulgarians. There are airline connections not only to Madrid, but also to Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca. Spain is a good example, showing a sector growth of 7% over the past year. In 2014 our country has surpassed the historical record on the number of international tourists, reaching 64,995,275 people.
As I mentioned, Bulgaria is a rather unknown destination, but it gradually manages to also position itself on the Spanish market. I hope the tendency will continue in the next years. The nature, national cuisine, culture and history of Bulgaria attract higher and higher interest among Spanish people and this fact brings me lots of joy.