Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev opened Tuesday the off-site sitting of the Regions and National Infrastructure Development Council with the President’s Office at the building hosting Smolyan Municipality.
The sitting was themed “State policy on encouraging the economic activity in the poorly developed and disadvantaged regions in Bulgaria. Alternatives to the traditional productions”.
The event was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister for EU Funds and Economic Policies Tomislav Donchev, Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Lilyana Pavlova, and Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova.
It was expected Minister of Agriculture and Food Desislava Taneva and Minister of Economy Bozhidar Lukarski will arrive, too.
District Governor of Smolyan Nedyalko Slavov, Mayor of Smolyan Nikolay Melemov, mayors from the region, representatives of the Economic and Social Council led by its Chairperson Professor Lalko Dulevski, representatives of NGOs and business associations, and experts were present at the high forum as well.
Speaking at the opening of the sitting, President Plevneliev stated the difficulties Bulgarian regions encountered would be analysed at the sitting.
In his words, the aim is creating an economic perspective and raising everyone’s quality of living.
“There are trends of deepening of internal regional differences in the country. There are many problems. We also know about the worsening demographic situation, unemployment, the lack of qualified employees, and the unbalances in infrastructural and economic development. Of course, besides these problems, we have more important tasks, not only pointing to problems but actively seeking a solution to them,“ the Head of State remarked.
He added balanced regional development and making use of the potential of every place in the country was its strategic priority.
"Balanced regional development and making use of the potential of every place in the country was its strategic priority," the President said, speaking at the sitting.
He stated clear emphasis had been placed at a state level in main strategic and profile documents on overcoming economic lagging behind in some regions in the country.
“We reached a full consensus on the National Development Programme of Bulgaria 2020. We set a priority in it, which aims at reducing inequality [in] the social, economic, and infrastructural development of regions and at strengthening processes of economic lagging behind. We set concrete goals orientated towards the regions lagging behind in their economic development,“ the Head of State noted.
He added a 3-year action plan on the implementation of the National Development Programme of Bulgaria 2020 in the 2015 – 2017 period had also been adopted.
President Plevneliev specified that concrete plan contained concrete measures and stated a Partnership Agreement between the Republic of Bulgaria and the European Commission (EC) until 2020 had entered into force. According to him, the Partnership Agreement envisaged for a use of an integrated approach for tackling demographic challenges in the regions and meeting specific needs of the geographic regions.
Rosen Plevneliev hailed the fact the government’s programme for stable development of the Republic of Bulgaria in the 2015 – 2018 period contained a clear priority regarding the development of lagging behind regions.
“The government has started work on a target-oriented investment programme in support of lagging behind and poorly developed Bulgarian regions and it is expected special programmes for these regions will be adopted by the end of the year,“ Plevneliev specified.
He said further Tuesday’s meeting was of key importance as they would together seek an answer to where and how invested public resources and efforts would be most stable and have the greatest multiplying effect.
“Seeking leading solutions can take place solely in partnership with the local authorities, businesses, the society, and representatives of Bulgarian regions and today’s council [sitting] is a very good opportunity for that,“ the President stated.
”Bulgarian municipalities have successfully realised European projects financed under European fund and the budget of the Republic and Smolyan Municipality is a very good example of that,” Rosen Plevneliev commented.
In the President’s words, municipalities are now faced with the challenge of applying an integrated approach in planning and management of public resources and European funds.
“In order to develop, regions should be active and depend not solely on centrally allocated resources – we here touch upon the big topic of decentralisation, which we believe in and which is on the agenda. European funds should be respectably and efficiently absorbed, yet we should not be totally dependent on them. Work should be done in every municipality on projects under European programmes. However, they are integral part of the all-embracing strategy on drawing investments,“ Mr Plevneliev explained.
According to him, the state and municipalities should focus on the business environment. Improving it and the conditions for drawing investments and qualified employees, education, infrastructure – all of this is part of the possibilities for drawing investors.
“In order for production to start, we need the rule of law and working regulating bodies. Taxes and other economic stimuli can also play an important role in directing investors’ interest and, of course, poorly developed and disadvantaged regions of Bulgaria are on the agenda of the government and parliament, and I am certain after working out and adopting these programmes, we will see an even more target-oriented intervention in the interest of these Bulgarian regions,“ the Head of State commented.
He went on to say each region was specific – some of them had conditions for tourism development, others – for the development of agriculture, traditional entrepreneurship forms, while still others had alternative agriculture forms.
“We should pay attention to SMEs and farms, pay attention to mountains as well as to fields. Therefore entrepreneurship in poorly developed regions is the big topic today. It is a factor for a positive change even more in small and mountainous municipalities and for this reason the state and municipalities back people of initiatives more in disadvantaged regions in an efficient and fair way through legislative and economic stimuli,“ Plevneliev stated.
He expressed his certainty good ideas and valuable pieces of advice on the development of these Bulgarian regions would be heard at Tuesday’s sitting on the part of all attending the event institutions and representatives of the state and local authorities.
Minister of Economy Bozhidar Lukarski also spoke at the sitting of the Regions and National Infrastructure Development Council.
“The policy conducted through the Investment Promotion Act policy creates good prerequisites for drawing new investments not only in Smolyan District and other regions with similar demographic and economic problems,“ he said.
The minister specified legislation envisaged the providing of additional stimuli for investors who realise their projects in regions with a high unemployment rate through lower thresholds for certifying projects.
As an example of a successfully realised investment, which was certified under the Investment Promotion Act, Bozhidar Lukarski pointed to the expansion and modernisation of the factory manufacturing skis of world famous brands in the town of Chepelare.
The investment is estimated at BGN 7.8 million and the newly-opened jobs are 105.
The number of certified projects under the Investment Promotion Act in the 2012 – 2014 period was 41, which are estimated at over BGN 2.72 billion.
11 of them were realised in regions with unemployment rates higher than the average one, resulting in the opening of over 6,500 jobs.
Thus the Investment Promotion Act is turning into a serious mechanism for stimulating regional development and counteracting negative demographic and economic trends, according to the Minister of Economy.
“Encouraging Bulgaria’s economic development, taking into consideration regional specifics, is a serious challenge, which should be addressed through the adoption of an integrated approach,“ Minister Lukarski commented.
In his view, under the conditions of the number of municipalities having an unemployment rate higher than the average on the rise in the country, drawing investments and encouraging private entrepreneurship are of key importance in tackling regional unbalances. Minister Lukarski also outlined the need of creating adequate mechanisms for encouraging private entrepreneurship.
Another government member to speak at the off-site sitting was Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Lilyana Pavlova.
”The government wishes it and what is envisaged also in our programme as well as the ministry’s programme is the working out of a programme in support of and for the development of poorly developed regions,” she said.
Ms Pavlova remarked this process had already started at the two sittings held and they had identified a framework.
She expressed her hope the first frame of the programme, which is aimed at an analysis of problems, main measures, and projects, would be ready even this summer with a special focus on the Northwest region, the Rhodope Mountain, and Strandzha Mountain, while the border mountainous and semi-mountainous regions would be included by the end of the year as well.
Minister Pavlova said if the capital Sofia was not taken into consideration, the rest of regions were equally bad, i.e. faced an equally bad situation.
”If we look at indicators outside the 7 big cities, facts and statistics overlap and are equal and close. Therefore we cannot afford to ignore them, we have to develop them together,” the minister explained.
In her words, analysing problems and measures, the programme will be accompanied by a detailed financial and economic plan and it will be decided what financing could be counted on for which projects.
Lilyana Pavlova noted the main goals in the focus of support and development of Smolyan and the region of Smolyan in the new programme period were 3 – development of transport infrastructure, of tourism, and establishing prerequisites for improving municipal infrastructure in terms of energy efficiency.
According to the minister, investments in the region of Smolyan amounted to less than BGN 160 million, which is quite insufficient.
She added the new OP Regions in Growth envisaged a minimum of BGN 30 million for Smolyan. The resources will be allocated for development of the urban environment, of transport, and improvement in public infrastructure – educational, healthcare, and cultural.
Minister Pavlova informed there was potential for development in the region also under the programme for trans-border cooperation between Bulgaria and Greece.
Minister of Tourism Nikolina Angelkova was other official to present her stance at the sitting.
”Over BGN 22 million was generated last year in the district of Smolyan due to nights spend in accommodation establishments, while over 22,000 people work in the sector in the entire Southern Central region,” she said.
Nikolina Angelkova remarked the country’s potential in the field of tourism was still not used enough, while the Ministry of Tourism explicitly backed all forms of mountain tourism development not only in Pamporovo, Bansko, and Borovets but also everywhere the potential could be used.
Angelkova stated there were 32 ski zones and only 110 aerial lifts in Bulgaria, which meant it was last in Europe in terms of this indicator.
”We have to clearly ask ourselves if we wish to develop mountain tourism and ski tourism as high class of tourism or we will just ascertain what our neighbours are doing. An aerial lift of 8 km is being built in Turkey. We are here debating on whether ski tourism should develop and what it destroys,” the minister commented.
She added not only ski tourism could be talked about as regards mountains but also ecotourism, pedestrian tourism, creative tourism, and adventure tourism.
”Building aerial lifts, which are the greenest kind of transport, does not mean only they are connected to skiing but that they ensure access to the mountain for the development of all kinds of mountain tourism and thus mountains are much less polluted than in [a situation with] thousands of cars stopping so that people can go to a mountain,” the minister stressed.
She remarked Bulgaria was in one of the first places in Europe in terms of cultural and historical heritage and cultural and historical monuments and turning Bulgaria into an all-year-round tourist destination through its culture and history was one of the main goals of the Ministry of Tourism.
Mayor of district centre Smolyan Nikolay Melemov spoke Tuesday before the participants in an off-site sitting of the Regions and National Infrastructure Development Council as well.
Mr Melemov presented some of the most important problems before the district of Smolyan and Smolyan Municipality.
He said the main problem of Smolyan District and the Rhodope Mountains region was the worsened demographic state, which was a result of an ageing population and a high mortality rate.
The reasons behind the low birth rate are the high economic and education migration of the young and of the active population and this should be focused on so that ways are found of halting this process, the Mayor thinks.
He stated as a municipality in the first months of his mandate they had decreased taxes yet these measures cannot kindle investors’ interest themselves.
In Melemov’s view, the most serious problem before investors and tourism development is the poorly developed road network.
“Smolyan District is the only Bulgarian district with only one mode of transport – road transport and the only with one second-class road – the Plovdiv – Smolyan [road],“ the Mayor complained.
He asked for support from all institutions having this opportunity so that the idea of designing and building a third lane on the Chepelare – Asenovgrad road is discussed and realised. This is believed to have a positive effect for the district and for tourism, which is a main sector in the region.
Mayor Melemov pointed out they attempted to develop winter tourism, mountain tourism, cultural and historical tourism, and rural tourism. The only obstacle before them was said to be the poor road network.
Nikolay Melemov asked for cooperation for the realisation of the Perelik sports and tourist centre, which the municipality is a co-shareholder at.
It was announced later President Rosen Plevneliev will be the patron of Rozhen Fair.
The fair is held in the summer and aims at popularising Bulgarian folk dances and songs.
"This was one of the ideas I instantly backed; we will again see one another in Smolyan on July 17 and in the Rozhen [area of Smolyan Municipality]," said Mr Plevneliev, speaking after the end of the off-site sitting of the Regions and National Infrastructure Development Council with the President’s Office.
Mr Plevneliev also held a meeting with Nikolay Melemov, Mayor of Smolyan Municipality, who gave him a kaba gaida (a kind of bagpipe) as a present.