(Texte disponible uniquement en anglais)
On behalf of our entire delegation I bid you a very warm welcome at this symposium. We are delighted and honoured that you have chosen to attend our meeting and to give us your views.
Belgium and Bulgaria have been friends and partners for a very long time. And we are about to engage in a very close cooperation as members of the European Union.
Your presence today, Mr President, and your support for our mission, are highly symbolic for the future of relations between our countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Belgium has always considered Bulgaria as a partner of choice in the region. As soon as your country became independent, we established close and intensive official ties. That was normal, because there are quite a number of similarities between our countries. For centuries we have both been subjected to foreign rule. Both Bulgaria and Belgium are situated at the crossroads of different cultures and on important, centuries-old trading routes. We do not have many natural resources but we are nations with a long and great industrial tradition and with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. Bulgarians are known for their creativity and their scientific and engineering skills. These are assets we Belgians appreciate to a high degree.
It is not surprising that Belgian companies have decided long ago to trade with Bulgaria and to invest in your country. We are one of the most active investors because we believe in the potential of your economy and we have confidence in the abilities of Bulgarians. And our presence here today, with a strong delegation, is proof that we want to strengthen our relationship. We want to work together with you because, like you, we want to look towards the future. And the future gives us many reasons for optimism.
Our business leaders are confident about the evolution of your economy. They want to benefit from Bulgaria?s potential. You have a great tradition in commerce, in manufacturing and in agro-industry. Your level of scientific and technological achievement is high. Bulgaria is a key gateway to Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia. Your location on the Black Sea is an asset which will become ever more important for the European Union. The Danube and the European transport corridors link your country to the rest of our continent; they will facilitate travel and trade. All these factors are important for Belgium as well, since we want to boost our two-way trade and develop the closest possible commercial and investment ties.
We also think that our Belgian companies can offer innovative solutions to some of the challenges you are facing. I myself strongly believe in the importance of research and innovation. In Belgium, our universities, polytechnics and companies develop new products and processes together. This is the case in telecommunications, ICT, life sciences and environmental technology but also in sectors such as construction, textile and metallurgy. Our pharmaceutical companies are leading the European field in terms of innovative research. I also see good opportunities for partnership in the area of transport infrastructure by road and rail, and in port and airport development. And of course here in Bulgaria our chemical sector is well known; they have been present for a long time with significant productive operations. All the examples I mentioned represent essential sectors of our own economy, where Belgian companies have obviously acquired solid technological know-how. Our entrepreneurs are interested in sharing this expertise with Bulgarian partners.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As Bulgaria becomes a member of the European Union, the cooperation between our companies and our economies will of course grow ever closer and more intensive. We place our economic partnership in a European perspective. That is the theme of this symposium. It is also the central objective of our visit to your country.
But there are other fundamental reasons why your accession to the EU is so important.
Bulgaria brings many things to Europe :
- Your tradition as one of the oldest countries on our continent.
- Your historic profile as a source of European civilisation.
- Your experience as a corridor of cultures.
- Your practice of ethnic and religious tolerance.
- The role you play in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe.
- Your outlook towards Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.
As Bulgaria undoubtedly benefits from EU membership, so will
the EU acquire a valuable new partner. We in Belgium, as hosts to the political headquarters of the EU, look forward to welcoming many Bulgarians and to offer them our hospitality.
Belgium and Bulgaria have been solid friends for a very long time. A new era of deep friendship and intense cooperation opens up. Our economic partnership and our common future within the EU will form the cornerstones of this exciting new venture.
Let?s join forces to make it happen.