Czech-Bulgarian trade relations blossom as Sofia draws closer to EU

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The European Union is set to go through with its second wave of expansion in less than two years after the European Parliament on Wednesday voted to pave the way for Bulgaria and Romania to join the EU as early as January 1, 2007.

There are close to four thousand Czechs living in Romania and some one thousand in Bulgaria. Czechs were also involved in northern Bulgaria's fight to attain autonomy from the Ottoman Turks in 1878.

So how would the enlargement to the east affect the Czech Republic? Czech investment in both countries has been on the rise in the past few years, especially in the areas of energy, infrastructure and tourism. The state-run power utility, CEZ, for example has won major power distribution tenders in both countries. In Bulgaria, the Czech Republic has also been involved in the Belene project - the construction of a new nuclear power plant.

The Czech Republic does not forecast any dramatic changes in its foreign policy to both countries and is currently focusing on sharing its own experiences as a former EU accession country. Trade relations have blossomed, ever since preparations for the EU's second wave of expansion began. Czech Ambassador to Bulgaria, Petr Dokladal:

"From 1998, Czech companies started returning to Bulgaria. The first Czech investors came here and the trade balance started to grow. After 2000, the growth rate of trade became substantial, resulting in a foreign trade balance of 320 million US dollars in 2004, comparing to 120 million US dollars in 2000. I am sure that the Bulgarian membership in the EU will push trade relations further."

The most important question is competition, of course. I imagine the Czech Republic could lose potential foreign investors? And then there's the fact that after the first wave of expansion, foreign companies came to new member states in this region because they were attracted by cheaper labour - they could be tempted to move to Bulgaria or Romania?

"Of course, I agree that the potential and attractiveness of Bulgaria and Romania as a destination for foreign investments is growing and all countries from the former communist bloc are our competitors in this field. I believe that our government will do its best to attract more foreign investors in industry, agriculture and tourism and the Czech Republic should convince them to choose it for, first of all, its qualified labour force and some other conditions in logistics and other areas. On the other hand, foreign direct investment to Bulgaria can also have a positive effect for our potential investors from the Czech Republic because it is my understanding that Bulgaria is also a potential destination for Czech medium-sized companies."