Building Cooperation: Bulgaria's Essential Role in Regional Integration

Article excerpt

After years of social and political transformation, Bulgaria has uniquely positioned itself among the countries of the Balkans and Black Sea region. Not only does it currently enjoy unprecedented economic growth and the full trust of foreign investors, but its accession to the European Union and its NATO membership have made it an even more critical strategic player in regional and international relations.

In the past decade, Bulgaria has transformed from a country with a planned, centralized economy and a one-party system into one of the pillars of the Euro-Atlantic integration and an embodiment of democratic principles, development and values. The country's progress has placed it in a key position with regard to the other EU member states, on one hand, and to the countries of the Balkans on the other. Membership in and integration with the EU and NATO has been crucial both for Bulgaria's democratic consolidation as well as its economic development.

Bulgaria played a critical role in the formulation of a new era in regional cooperation, beginning with the establishment of the South East European Co-operation Process (SEECP) in early 1996 in Sofia, the nation's capital. The country also contributed to the establishment of a long-lasting and comprehensive regional dialogue on the Balkans--reflected in the transformation of the Stability Pact in Southeast Europe into a Regional Cooperation Council, which proved that regional partnership is not only possible but efficient. The success of this initiative was most vividly illustrated when representatives of the Serbian and Kosovo authorities sat at one table in Pomorie, Bulgaria, at a high-level summit of the SEECP. Bulgaria's engagement in critical regional issues has demonstrated the principle that no country can isolate itself from responsibility toward its neighbors.

Bulgaria's important role in the region became clearer more recently, during Kosovo's declaration of independence and during the conflict in the South Caucasus in the summer of 2008. In both conflicts, Bulgaria demonstrated the efficacy of the European Union's oft-maligned "soft power." With its excellent bilateral relations with the Russian Federation and surrounding countries, Bulgaria proved itself as a particularly valuable ally in facilitating dialogue on issues of security, stability, and democratic development in the Balkans. …