(Texte disponible uniquement en anglais)
Your hospitality and your welcome are truly exceptional. I thank you and your spouse very warmly for your interest in the activities of our delegation. We highly appreciate your personal commitment to the success of our visit. You are both very close friends of Belgium.
We are also aware of the key role you play in shaping Bulgaria as a stable democracy, a tolerant society and a reliable partner.
Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have come to Bulgaria with a strong ministerial and business team, because we believe in your country as an important bilateral and European friend. The focus of our visit is on economics and business. The reasons for that choice are obvious. Bulgaria and Belgium have been economic partners for a very long time. Our business leaders have confidence in Bulgaria. They know that you offer them a skilled workforce, great attention for quality and a promising business environment. I also invite Bulgarian companies to consider Belgium as an ideal location for establishing offices or productive units.
Economic ties are just one of the many strands that, together, form the strong bond between Bulgaria and Belgium. Our official bilateral relations go back a long way. Our administrations work together in areas such as hospital management, social dialogue and migration issues. There are intensive exchanges between our two capitals, Sofia and Brussels, and between towns and associations. And there are very strong personal ties between Bulgarians and Belgians. Tomorrow night we celebrate those ties with the huge talent of Yossif Ivanov.
Among your priorities, we know you want to focus on the values you consider essential for Bulgaria today. Your country has for centuries been a crossroads of peoples, opinions and religions. So diversity is something you are very familiar with. In a recent speech in parliament, you stressed the need for reconciliation and you said, I quote : ? I am convinced that tolerance among ethnic groups, religions and parties has no alternative; government by maximum consensus is the best guarantee of Bulgaria?s success.?
The strong commitment of Bulgaria to these values, to democracy and the rule of law has been pivotal in preparing your country for NATO and EU membership. Bulgaria is only a few days away from its formal accession to the European Union. So it is normal that during our visit we should focus on our cooperation as partners in Europe. We realize to what extent EU membership allows your country to put the past at rest. The founding fathers of Europe wanted to put an end to war and misery on our continent by building an area of peace, prosperity, freedom and common values. Next year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, treaties that were negotiated in Brussels. Belgium welcomes Bulgaria as a partner who shares the European acquis of those 50 years and is fully committed to work, together with us, at shaping the Europe of the future. In this context, Bulgaria will bring to the EU its historic role as a crossroads between Eastern, Central and Western Europe.
Tonight we celebrate not only the longstanding intensive partnership between our two countries. We celebrate our common future as partners and friends within the EU and NATO.
Let me therefore propose a toast, Mr President. To the future of Europe, and to a future of warm friendship and intensive cooperation between the people of Bulgaria and Belgium.