France and Bulgaria

Political relations

France has traditionally been seen in a sympathetic light in Bulgaria. Bilateral relations, which were strained during the Communist era, were boosted from January 1989, symbolized by President Mitterrand’s State Visit and the breakfast that he had on that occasion with several dissident intellectuals (including future president Jelev), an event which Bulgarians still remember. 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. Preparations for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018 have seen exchanges between France and Bulgaria intensify.

Visits

President Macron received Prime Minister Borissov on 6 June 2017. President Macron then visited Varna on 25 August for meetings with President Radev and Mr Borissov. He then received Mr Radev in Paris on 4 December.

Exchanges are frequent between ministers responsible for foreign affairs or Europe. The 16 October 2017 thus saw Ms Loiseau receive Ms Pavlova, the minister responsible for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018. Mr Le Drian received his Bulgarian counterpart Ms Zaharieva on 23 October.

The Minister for the Armed Forces met his Bulgarian counterpart, Mr Karakachanov on 11 October.

Economic relations

Despite an 80% increase in 10 years, trade with Bulgaria remains low (€1.89 billion in 2016). With exports to Bulgaria of €760 million and imports of €1.124 billion, France is Bulgaria’s ninth-largest 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).

Similarly, France has only modestly invested in Bulgaria (€982 million in FDI stocks, equal to 2.6% of all FDI), although its 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 branch in Varna and is supported by a network of eight 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, which is 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 have been 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). There are currently almost 1,700 Bulgarian students in France (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, particularly 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 major contract for training civil servants.

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.

  • 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

Updated: 5 December 2017

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