France traditionally has significant sympathy capital 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.
President Macron met Prime Minister Borisov on 6 June 2017. The French President’s visit to Varna on 25 August 2017 was one of the first bilateral visits after he took office during which he met with President Radev and Mr Borissov. He later met Mr Radev in Paris on 4 December 2017.
Discussions are held frequently at Foreign and European Minister level. On 16 October 2017, Ms Loiseau met with Ms Pavlova, Minister for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2018. Mr Le Drian received his counterpart Ms Zaharieva on 23 October. Ms Loiseau made a working visit to Sofia at the beginning of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 19 January 2018.
The Minister for the Armed Forces received his Bulgarian counterpart, Mr Karakachanov, on 11 October 2017 and 27 March 2018.
Despite increasing by 86% since 2009, trade between France and Bulgaria remain modest (€1.91 billion in 2017). France’s exports to Bulgaria total €825 million while imports stand at €1,083 making France Bulgaria’s 9th-largest supplier and 7th most important customer. Since 2009, France has had a relatively stable trade deficit with Bulgaria.
France is also a modest investor in Bulgaria (€1.1 billion in foreign direct investment or 2.8% of FDI stocks in Bulgaria), but its presence is increasing with over 200 French businesses now in Bulgaria employing over 16,000 people and generating turnover of €1.9 billion, with strong positions in the financial sector, the environmental services sector, supermarket retail, manufacturing, transport, the agrifood sector and the software industry. Since 2014, Total (together with Repsol and OMV) has been leading an important exploration campaign in the Black Sea (Block Han Asparuh) which could make them the leading French investor in Bulgaria.
Our trade with Bulgaria has been carried by the presence of major French companies in Bulgaria and increasing use of subcontracting (latest example to date: opening of a factory for the Latécoère aeronautic group in Plovdiv in September 2018). France’s position could get stronger in the years to come with the gradual increase in purchasing power which could enable our businesses to improve their positions on the Bulgarian market, while the upgrading of the Bulgarian economy could attract more investors in strategic sectors.
Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation
The Institut français in Bulgaria has a satellite in Varna and can rely on a network of 8 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 and the Francofolies Festival in Blagoevgrad. The Bulgarian Ministry of Culture has close relations with the Louvre Museum which 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 4th most learned language despite a fall in learner numbers. Bulgaria has 32 French-Bulgarian bilingual sections of which 6 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 1,700 Bulgarian students (5th host country for Bulgarian students).
France is Bulgaria’s 2nd-most important European scientific partner. The Hubert Curien French-Bulgarian partnership “RILA” finances some 15 joint research projects every year. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences renewed its framework agreement with the CNRS in March 2018.
France leads 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 National School of the Judiciary.
In partnership with the Bulgarian authorities and French businesses, the French embassy in Sofia has organized the annual “Eco-obchtina” competition aimed at rewarding local governments that use best practices in the field of sustainable cities.
- French Ambassador in Sofia: Mr Eric Lebédel (since October 2016)
- Bulgarian Ambassador in Paris: Mr Anguel Tcholakov (since September 2013)
- Chair of the France-Bulgaria Friendship Group at the French National Assembly: Mr Antoine Herth
- Chair of the France-Bulgaria Friendship Group at the French Senate: Mr Loïc Hervé
- Chair of the France-Bulgaria Friendship Group at the Bulgarian Parliament: Mr Dragomir Stoynev
Updated: April 2019