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Interviews and other interesting materials :: Development cooperation and Bulgaria

Development cooperation and Bulgaria

DiplomacyVentsislav Kirkov, "Diplomacy" magazine, issue 15 - october-december 2015

In 2007, the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs promulgated a concept of Bulgaria’s participation in international development cooperation. This document set out the principles, the tasks, and the priorities of the development policy of this country, along with the ways in which this policy was going to be funded. The International Development Cooperation Concept outlined the Bulgarian participation in the development policies on a bilateral and a multilateral basis, meaning that the funding was going to be provided through bilateral and multilateral channels.
By multilateral funding channels, I mean the varied organizations which were working in the area of attaining the topical, at the time, Millennium Development Goals. Among these organizations ere some UN agencies, the IMF, and some EU institutions dealing with the formulation and implementation of the international development cooperation policies. The bilateral unding channels involved Bulgaria’s participation in small projects, which did not require any serious funding, participation in joint projects, along with some other international donors, as well as the provision of technical aid. At that time, Bulgaria had quite recently acceded to the European Union and was, therefore, considered to be suitable for using the bilateral funding pproach because this approach was going to help the country gain the relevant experience and implement a consistent and efficient development policy in line with its own foreign policy.
Participation in the international development cooperation policies is, indeed, viewed as a modern and flexible instrument within the framework of the general foreign policy of the ountry. This could become most visible in the implementation of joint bilateral projects and programmes. The Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage makes it possible for the country to cquire stable positions in a number of countries in which the leading EU Member States do not have long-standing traditions. Hence, the development of bilateral relations could be regarded s an expression of Bulgaria’s willingness to empathize with the countries with which it has been maintaining long-standing traditions of reliable partnerships in the political, economic, and cultural sphere.

Bulgaria’s international commitment to allocate financial resources for development cooperation purposes is calculated as percentage of the country’s Gross National Income (GNI). his percentage has been fluctuating over the years, e.g. until 2010, it used to be 0.17 per cent of GNI while for the 2010-2015 period, it was estimated at 0.33 per cent. Table 1 below rovides information about the percentages allocated for development cooperation purposes according to European Commission data1:

 Year  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013 2014 
 Target 0,17% of  GNI 0,33% of GNI
 Reported percentages  0,06%   0,04%   0,04% 0,09%  0,09% 0,08%0,10%  0,08%

A large portion of the above funds has been paid in installments as Bulgarian EU-membership contributions and then reallocated to the relevant EU institutions dealing with the implementation  of the EU foreign policy. If we take a look at the correlation between the funds contributed via the multilateral and the bilateral channels, we will see that the focus on the bilateral channels has been negligible. (Table 2: Correlation between the funds disbursed via the multilateral and the bilateral channels over the past three years).

 Year 20122013 2014 
 Multilateral channels 99,59%99,30% 97,97%
 Bilateral channels 0,41% 0,70% 2,03% 

There has been a noticeable trend towards an increase in the percentage of funds disbursed through the bilateral channels because, if we compare the figures of the past few years, e will see that these funds have gone up three-fold. Nevertheless, we are left with the impression that the potential of bilateral development cooperation has not been adequately used.
The 2013-2015 Mid-Term Development Aid and Humanitarian Relief Programme had prioritized some countries from the Western Balkans and the Black Sea and the Mediterranean region s bilateral development cooperation targets. The respective aid provision areas included:
• Assistance to be rendered in support of democracy
• Raising the quality of education
• Support for higher-quality health care
• Encouraging the extension of the trade exchange and investment initiatives
• Building upof a socially significant infrastructure
The above sectors had been identified on the basis of the already existing political and economic relations between Bulgaria and the partner countries, as well as of this country’s expert potential and the needs of the said countries. This was expected to ensure the inclusion of more countries, as well as the provision of a wider range of development aid and humanitarian relief. In this context, the above programme was meant to demonstrate the potential for further developing the bilateral relations. This potential is important for the development of the economic relations, as well as for satisfying the needs of the people in these countries. The two processes were expected to supplement and ”add value” to each other. In actual fact, the development aid is important not only to the beneficiary states, but to the donor countries, too. This is something that makes this kind of cooperation mutually beneficial. In this context, the development aid can also be viewed as an investment instrument, as well as a growth-fostering mechanism for the donor countries.
In spite of the vision demonstrated above, the resources needed for the implementation of this kind of policy are limited while the problems are of an administrative nature. In 2011, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers adopted Government Decree No 234 concerning the functionalities related to the formulation and implementation of the development cooperation policies. Notwithstanding the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was specified as being the principal in the formulation, monitoring, and implementation of these policies, this ministry does not provide sufficient information about the ways in which these bilateral initiatives have been funded. In addition, the procedures are so bureaucratic and cumbersome that they impede the efficient performance of any such activities. Furthermore, the role that is expected to be played by the key partners from the business circles and the non-governmental sector is not specified clearly enough and is even underestimated. At the same time, the new development cooperation funding and reporting paradigm focuses, first and foremost, on the said partners.
All this calls for the formulation and adoption of a framework international development cooperation parliamentary act. This piece of legislation is supposed to define clearly the fullfledged participation of the Bulgarian business and NGO sectors in the formulation and implementation of the development policies. It is also expected to stipulate effective fund allocation procedures with respect to the bilateral aid-provision projects and programmes. In the long run, this could make it possible to either set up a new special unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or extend the existing one. Such a unit should be assigned the task to steer and monitor the overall process of Bulgaria’s participation in the international development cooperation policies.
In addition to the legislative framework, the efficient coordination requires some other activities, such as, for example, raising the awareness of the business circles about the opportunities offered by the development policies. In the context of the 2015 European Year for Development, a survey was conducted among 500 Bulgarian companies. The survey results revealed a very low level of awareness in these companies of the opportunities offered for participation. At the same time, it also became clear that after having received information about these opportunities, the businesses seemed to start demonstrating much higher interest in this kind of cooperation. The second survey2, which was also conducted within the framework of the 2015 European Year for Development, indicated again that the young people aged 15-25 looked upon the role assigned to the business circles as being socially responsible in supporting key economic sectors in third countries, such as education and health care. This kind of promotion of the development cooperation policies is inevitably going to raise the level of support for these policies.
At the same time, the coordination with the NGOs and the academia should become a mandatory component element of the overall development policies implementation. There are numerous Bulgarian organizations that have already had direct experience in the implementation of projects in priority regions by establishing contacts with local civil society units and local national institutions. A proper organization of the available potential can contribute to meeting much better the needs of the civil sector in these countries, as well as for raising the prestige of Bulgaria.
This type of coordination should become a top priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, bearing in mind the new global action framework introduced after the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September, 2015. This framework incorporates a brand new element because these goals do not apply only to the countries in the so called Global South, but they also apply to the states which are considered to be developed in comparative terms. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, this is an opportunity to establish mutually advantageous partnerships by focusing on the bilateral development channels.

1 http://europa.eu/rapid/attachment/MEMO-15-4748/en/2014%20ODA%20tables%20attachment.pdf

2 A global ”young citizen” profile. A sociological survey conducted among 501 persons, 20.10.-20.11.2015. 



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Interviews and other interesting materials :: Development cooperation and Bulgaria