France and Bulgaria

Political relations

France has traditionally been looked on with friendship and trust in Bulgaria. Though this was less so during the Communist era, relations were boosted from January 1989, symbolised by the President Mitterrand’s State Visit and the breakfast that he had upon this occasion with several dissident intellectuals (including future president Jelev), an event which remains in the Bulgarian memory. Bilateral political dialogue has developed significantly since the early 2000s when France supported Sofia’s dual candidacy to the European Union and NATO, and culminated in July 2008 with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement.

Visits

President Plevneliev, who held office from January 2012 to January 2017, was welcomed to France twice by President Hollande on 28 January 2013 and 27 June 2016.

During his second term of office, Prime Minister Borissov participated in the republican march in Paris on 11 January 2015 following the Charlie Hebdo attacks and met with President Hollande on 14 April 2015. When he returned to office in May 2017, he was received by President Macron on 6 June 2017.

The Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Daniel Mitov, had a working lunch in Paris with his counterpart, Mr Ayrault on 6 September 2016.

Regular contact was also maintained between the Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr Désir, and the Deputy Prime Minister of the second Borissov government responsible for coordinating European policies, Ms Kouneva (Paris on 27 April 2015, then Sofia on 11 and 12 June).

For more information, visit: https://bg.ambafrance.org/-Visites-bilaterales

Economic relations

Franco-Bulgarian trade remains modest despite an 80% increase over the last 10 years (€1.89bn in 2016). With exports to Bulgaria worth €760m and €1.124m of imports, France is Sofia’s ninth-biggest supplier and sixth-largest customer. Since 2009, France has held a trade deficit with Bulgaria which reduced in 2014 and 2015 only to increase again in 2016 (-€365m).

France is likewise a small investor in Bulgaria (€982 million in FDI stocks equal to 2.6% of all FDI), even if France’s presence is increasing: around 200 French companies now employ over 16,000 people with strong positions in the financial sector, environmental services, large-scale distribution, industry, transport, agrifood and software development. Since 2014, Total (with Repsol and OMV) has been running a significant exploration campaign in the Black Sea (Kahn Asparuh Block) which could make it the leading French investor.

A Franco-Bulgarian business forum was held for the first time in Paris on 15 April 2015.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

The Institut Français in Bulgaria has a satellite in Varna and is supported by a network of 8 Alliance française institutes. Cultural cooperation is a field where French excellence is highly visible. Several events are now part of the Bulgarian cultural landscape (Museum Night, European Photography Month, Francofolies Festival). While Bulgarian museums often host French exhibitions, the Louvre Museum hosted a large Bulgarian exhibition for the first time in 2015 on “The Saga of the Thracian Kings”.

Bulgaria has been a member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) since 1993. The French language, understood by around 8% of the population, remains the fourth most widely learned language in Bulgaria despite falling student numbers. There are 47 high-school French-Bulgarian bilingual sections (6 of which are awarded the LabelFrancEducation) throughout the country, as well as the Victor Hugo French High School in Sofia and the French International School in Varna. In higher education, there are a number of French-language courses, including in nine member institutions of the University Agency for Francophonie (AUF). France hosts nearly 1,700 Bulgarian students (5th most popular destination).

France is Bulgaria’s second-largest European scientific partner. The Hubert Curien (PHC) “Rila” partnership finances some fifteen joint research projects every year.

France heads governance cooperation in the social field and the fight against human trafficking, notably as regards the Roma community. It also helps to support the Bulgarian public administration, particularly as it prepares for the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council, for which the French National School of Public Administration and the European Institute of Maastricht won a significant contract for training civil servants.

In partnership with the Bulgarian authorities and French companies, the French Embassy in Sofia has organised the annual “Eco-obchtina” competition since 2016, which aims to reward “sustainable city” good practices within local authorities.

  • Ambassador of France in Sofia: Mr Eric Lebédel (October 2016)
  • Bulgarian Ambassador in Paris: Mr Anguel Tcholakov (September 2013)
  • President of the France-Bulgaria friendship group in the National Assembly: Mr Germinal Peiro
  • President of the France-Bulgaria friendship group in the Senate: Mr Loïc Hervé

Updated: 6 June 2017

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