Dear colleagues, dear friends,
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the opening of the World Bank office in Bulgaria! It is an honor for me to welcome you to our new premises, which we share with our colleagues from the International Finance Corporation and the Shared Services Center.
We have built a strong partnership with Bulgaria since our Sofia office first opened in 1992.
Along the windows in this room and the one down the other end, you will see a series of posters that tell the story of how our engagement has evolved over the years as well as the wide range of sectors that we have supported with financing and with global knowledge.
Since Bulgaria became a member of the World Bank, we have supported 45 projects for a total of $3.3 billion. These engagements have focused on critical structural reforms, and they have provided strategic investments in key sectors. Allow me to give you a couple of examples.
In 2003-2009, the Revenue Administration Reform Project, for example, supported the integration of tax and social contribution revenue collection, helping increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the public revenue system in Bulgaria.
Our partnership has also focused on protecting Bulgaria’s nature and environment as an important asset for future generations, which serves as an engine of economic growth and prosperity for the entire country. The Environmental Remediation Pilot Project in 1998, for example, was about cleaning up toxic chemical waste in the town of Pirdop.
Throughout our partnership, we never lost sight of the challenges faced by the country’s poor and vulnerable. In fact, much of our collaboration is built around inclusion and creating opportunities for all Bulgarians. Together, we have helped strengthen social inclusion policies, build schools, kindergartens, community support centers, and mother and child units.
I would be remiss if I do not mention Bulgaria’s joining the International Development Agency in Nov 2021. This is an important moment for the country as it joined the club of countries in standing in solidarity with the poorest in the world, taking a seat at the table when discussion on global challenges and responses occur.
Looking to the future
The world faces strong headwinds today. The pandemic continues to linger, the war in Ukraine is at doorstep of Europe and the energy crisis will hamper economic growth for the foreseeable future. Navigating these waters will require a focused and steady hand on the tiller.
It also requires courage to do the right thing. We believe that with the right mix of reforms and investment, the country can double its economic growth in the next decade, to some 4.6% per year.
This will require pushing through with the right reforms, for instance a focused green transition and building on the country’s strengths in digital development. And as climate change threatens the development path of all countries around the world, it is also critical for Bulgaria to pursue effective climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Natural disasters are already increasing in frequency and intensity, making the need for a robust disaster risk management system all the more urgent.
It will require reforms to the education sector that fortify the most valuable asset in the country, its human capital. Bulgarian children currently study almost two years less than the EU average student – if this gap is closed, GDP growth can speed up by almost 1 percentage point on average by 2030.
It will also means strengthening the institutions to put Bulgaria in a better position to boost prosperity in the country through attracting the type of investments that will create goods jobs and the right opportunities for all Bulgarians.
While these reforms are ambitious, they are also achievable. Perhaps most importantly, you are not alone. The World Bank Group has stood at Bulgaria’s side since it applied for European Union membership in 1995. We were there when the country became an EU member in 2007, and we are here with you today as the impact of two shocks the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine—unfolds.
Our teams in Sofia, in Brussels, and in Washington, D.C. remain deeply committed to seeing Bulgaria succeed. You have the full breadth of World Bank Group services at your disposal – from financing to global knowledge. Use it!
We are humbled that your trusted us for 30 years, and we look forward to another many years of friendship to help Bulgaria realize its potential.
We are honored to be Bulgaria’s partner on this journey.