I EXPECT TO CELEBRATE FOUR TIMES DURING MY MANDATE
Germany's Ambassador to Sofia Dr. Harald Kindermann to the BANKER weeklyYour Excellency, at the very beginning of your mandate you visited a number of Bulgarian towns. You inspected joint Bulgarian-German projects. Are you satisfied with what you saw, did you find any problems?- I managed to visit a lot of towns. I was in Plovdiv several times, I went to Bourgas, Veliko Tirnovo, Haskovo, Stara Zagora, and Pleven. I think it is very important to know not only Sofia, but the entire country as well and to have direct impressions from everywhere. The joint Bulgarian-German projects that I saw are developing well. We will keep supporting them in the future.You also went on a tour with Bulgaria's Vice Premier Plamen Panayotov. What do you think of the business climate in Bulgaria? Is the country's economy prepared for the market reality in the European Union?- The tour was aimed at providing a close look at the country's preparation for integration into the EU. We talked with many people from the business circles, we discussed the opportunities that the EU will offer them. Right now the business needs to have more information about what it should expect as part of the EU. That's why I support Mr. Panayotov's initiative, Europe for You. Regarding the business climate, I think that Bulgaria is going in the right direction. However, joining the EU is not just a good chance. It also means responsibilities and more requirements, as there will be great competition ahead. So, we should all work intensively in order to best prepare the Bulgarian national economy for the coming integration.Germany is actively encouraging private business in Bulgaria, including through the Microcredit Programme of the German state-owned bank Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau. What else is necessary for the stabilization of the middle class?- This is a very important question. We do not need to concentrate on large projects only. In Germany, we understood that small and medium-sized enterprises are the most important thing. Small projects are what revive the economy and help the private sector survive and grow. A Bulgarian entrepreneur cannot afford to establish a company with 500 employees, for example, but he can start production with ten. It is important to establish business centres that will develop new projects. Encouragement of small entrepreneurship must be a priority. However, it needs financial resources, it needs capital to start working. People should get credits in order to be able to develop their own business. This is the purpose of the German microcrediting programme.Germany is one of the large investors in Bulgaria, it ranks second in terms of capital investments. Which sectors of the economy are German entrepreneurs most interested in?- Business chooses its sectors of interest by itself. Sometimes we at the Embassy hear about successful investments only when a deal has already been signed. We support the investors but we do not know everything, partly because of the competition which should not learn where there is potential to do business.Germany is interested in investments in the Bulgarian energy sector, in tourism, agriculture, modern technologies. Especially in the technologies, because we think Bulgarian youth should not try to earn money abroad - it should have the chance to work in its own country. It means there should be appropriate jobs that provide a good salary. And this can be achieved with investments.What kind of obstacles do Germans willing to invest in Bulgaria face?- The investment climate in Bulgaria is good, but there are some crucial points. Sometimes meeting the red tape is rather painful. I'm also disturbed by the fact that Bulgarian media always talk about organized crime and corruption. This creates a negative image of the country and logically influences the investors. Investments depend directly on the country's image. Investors come if only they see a good image. People should continuously work on the good name of their country.Which of all experiences gathered in the process of integration of the former East German economy after the unification of Germany can Bulgaria use now?- After the unification of Germany we went through a period of reconstruction. We had to organize our economy in a way that we could build a stable market, planned, and social economy in the provinces that were integrated. People who live there have rich experience to share with the Bulgarians. That's why we constantly organize initiatives to help for the exchange of ideas. The Sachsen-Anhalt province established a centre in Plovdiv with that purpose. For example, in the sector of agriculture we restituted the land, too, and gave it back to its owners. But we kept most of the efficiently operating cooperative farms (LPG), as well as some production and stock-breeding cooperations. However, in Bulgaria it seems that too many structures have been created which now have to be replaced. The agriculture is parcelled out and the fragments cannot exist independently. They need to be enlarged in order to provide concrete results.We are constantly discussing these questions with our Bulgarian colleagues. We share the experience gained by the new German provinces in which we didn't change the structure of the agriculture.Do you have any particular expectations during your mandate as Ambassador to Bulgaria?- I hope that I'll have a chance to celebrate four times: when Bulgaria joins NATO, when the prejoining negotiations are concluded, when the joining agreement is signed. Then (if I stay in Bulgaria that long) - when Bulgaria joins the EU. It will be my best holiday. I'm not sure if I will be here to celebrate all the four events, but part of them I definitely will.