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France and Bulgaria

Political relations

France has traditionally enjoyed a positive reputation in Bulgaria. Bilateral relations, which drifted during the Communist era, took off again from January 1989, symbolized by President Mitterrand’s state visit and the breakfast that he had with several dissident intellectuals (including future President Jelev), an event which remains present in Bulgaria’s collective memory. Bilateral political dialogue grew deeper at the beginning of the 2000s with France’s support for Sofia’s double candidacy for the European Union and NATO, culminating in July 2008 with the signing of a strategic partnership agreement. Preparations for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018 gave rise to deeper discussions.

French presence

Consular section at the Embassy in Sofia; consular agency in Varna
French community (September 2019): 1,758 French nationals registered

Visits

President Macron received Prime Minister Borisov on 6 June 2017. His visit to Varna on 25 August 2017 was one of his first bilateral visits after taking office, during which he met with President Radev and Mr Borisov. He then met Mr Radev in Paris on 4 December 2017.

Discussions are held frequently at Foreign and European Minister level, including on the sidelines of European events. On 16 October 2017, Ms Loiseau, French Minister for European Affairs, received Ms Pavlova, Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2018, and then made a working visit to Sofia at the start of the Bulgarian Presidency on 19 January 2018. Mr Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, received his counterpart, Ms Zakharieva, on 23 October 2017.

The Minister for the Armed Forces received her Bulgarian counterpart, Mr Karakachanov, on 11 October 2017 and 27 March 2018.

Ambassadors

  • French Ambassador in Sofia: Florence Robine (since September 2019)
  • Bulgarian Ambassador in Paris: Anguel Tcholakov (since September 2013)

Economic relations

French-Bulgarian trade exceeded €2.1 billion in 2019 (up over 80% on 2007, the year of Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union). Much of these trade relations, which are dominated by mechanical machinery and electrical, electronic and IT equipment, are within companies. France is Bulgaria’s sixth-largest customer and ninth-largest supplier.

France’s economic presence in Bulgaria includes almost 270 companies with 16,000 employees and total turnover in the region of €2.9 billion (i.e. 4.7% of Bulgaria’s GDP), with strong positions in the engineering industry (including cars and aeronautics), electronics, chemicals, the environmental services sector, financial services and insurance, supermarket retail, transport, the agrifood sector and digital technology (a booming sector due to a qualified workforce, from software development to cloud computing). In 2019, the Meridiam Fund won the concession for Sofia Airport (an investment of over €600 million). Since 2014, Total (together with Repsol and OMV) has been leading an major exploration campaign in the Black Sea (Block Han Asparuh) which could make them the leading French investor in Bulgaria.

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation

The Institut français in Bulgaria has a satellite in Varna and can rely on a network of eight Alliance Française branches. Cultural cooperation is a sector in which France has a positive image. Several events are now part of the Bulgarian cultural landscape including Museum Night, European Heritage Days and the Francofolies Festival in Blagoevgrad. The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has close relations with the Louvre Museum and they are developing cooperation projects and fund exchanges particularly focused on the work on the Black Sea.

Bulgaria has been a member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie since 1993. French remains the fourth most learned language despite a fall in learner numbers. Bulgaria has 32 French-Bulgarian bilingual sections, six of which have the FrancEducation label, as well as the Lycée Français Victor Hugo in Sofia and the Varna French International School. In higher education, there are several French-language courses (management, engineering, political science) and 10 universities are members of the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie. France welcomes nearly 1,200 Bulgarian students (sixth most popular host country for Bulgarian students).

France is Bulgaria’s biggest European scientific partner. The Hubert Curien French-Bulgarian partnership “RILA” finances about 10 French joint research projects every year. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences renewed its framework agreement with the CNRS in March 2018.

Other cooperation

France undertakes cooperation in matters relating to governance in the social field and the fight against human trafficking, particularly as regards the Roma community. It also provides training for Bulgarian civil servants in partnership with the French National School of Public Administration (ENA) and the French ENM (National School for the Judiciary).

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

Updated: August 2020