World Bank Vice President attends Roma conference, wraps four-day visit marking milestone in knowledge partnership
SOFIA, January 23, 2012 ─ The Government of Bulgaria and the World Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) yesterday, marking an important shift in their 20-year partnership toward a greater focus on knowledge and advisory services to boost Bulgaria’s absorption of EU funds and support the National Reform Program.
The agreement was signed by Minister in Charge of EU Funds Management, Tomislav Donchev, and World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, Philippe Le Houérou, at a high-profile ceremony which launched the government’s knowledge and advisory partnerships with international financial institutions (IFIs). The event was attended by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov; EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn; European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice President, Wilhelm Molterer; European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Vice President, Jan Fischer; and Executive Director representing Bulgaria on the World Bank’s Board, Ruud Treffers.
“This MoU is a major milestone in the World Bank’s longstanding relationship with Bulgaria as we move away from a traditional cooperation to one that delivers tailored knowledge and advice to support Bulgaria’s European agenda,” said Le Houérou. “Our goal is to bring the living standard of every Bulgarian citizen closer to that of Europe through better infrastructure; better public services; and better social inclusion,” he added. “By coordinating closely with the EC and with partners such as the EIB and EBRD, we commit to supporting Government efforts to deliver visible results as quickly as possible.”
The IFI partnerships represent an important step taken by the Government of Bulgaria to draw on their expertise to develop and implement strategies and programs in a range of sectors under Operational Programs financed by EU Structural Funds. In the first phase, the World Bank will deliver, on a cost-recovery basis, knowledge and advisory services in the areas of roads, water, railways, innovation, business regulation and social inclusion.
The agreements signed yesterday not only support Bulgaria’s reform priorities, but also aim to accelerate the absorption of some €7 billion in EU grants that Bulgaria has at its disposal in the current EU programming cycle of 2007-2013. While Bulgaria has made major progress in utilizing these funds in the last 12 months, the larger part remains undisbursed, and the Government has placed accelerated absorption at the top of its agenda. These agreements will also lay the ground for Bulgaria to use EU funds efficiently for the next programming cycle of 2014-2020.
“At a time of financial and economic hardship in Bulgaria and the rest of Europe, competitiveness is important and EU funds present a unique opportunity to enhance competitiveness by investing in public infrastructure and administrative capacity,” said Minister Donchev. “EU Cohesion policy is not charity but an important resource for investing in a more connected and coordinated Europe to benefit citizens of all EU member states,” he explained. “This is just the beginning of a promising partnership to tap into World Bank and IFI expertise to design and implement projects, develop effective policies and prepare ourselves for the next EU programming cycle.”
During his visit, Le Houérou also joined Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov in the opening of a Roma conference organized by the National Council for Coordination on Ethnic and Integration Issues and the World Bank. The two-day event was aimed at advancing preparations to effectively monitor and implement the Government’s National Strategy for Roma Integration.
“Investing in Roma inclusion is a smart investment and I would like to congratulate the Government of Bulgaria on the new National Strategy for Roma Integration (2012-2020),” Le Houérou said in his opening remarks at the Roma event. “The next step is to translate the Strategy into concrete results that will create opportunities for the Roma and the poor to go to school, find jobs and contribute to Bulgaria’s economic future.”
Le Houérou met with President Rosen Plevneliev following his official inauguration on Sunday and delivered a congratulatory letter from World Bank Group President, Robert B. Zoellick. In addition, Le Houérou met with Prime Minister Borissov and held talks with Minister of Finance Simeon Djankov on the World Bank’s program with Bulgaria. Le Houérou also praised the government on Bulgaria’s strong fiscal performance and the ongoing sectoral reforms to improve competitiveness. A new World Bank Country Partnership Strategy for Bulgaria was launched last year to support smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth with emphasis on boosting EU funds absorption and tailored knowledge support.
Since Bulgaria joined the World Bank Group in 1990, it has received approximately $4 billion in lending to support reforms in areas such as banking, revenue administration, health, social welfare, environmental protection, general manufacturing, agribusiness, infrastructure, and renewable energy.