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(DF) After Joint Government Meeting, Sofia and Skopje Will Advance Cooperation in Broad Range of Fields
January 25 (BTA) - Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia signed three memorandums of cooperation in the presence of the prime ministers of the two countries, the government information service said on Tuesday. The official signing took place after a joint meeting of the two governments in Sofia and included a Memorandum of Understanding in the area of agriculture, agrarian science, rural development and forestry, Memorandum of Understanding for the development of the Sofia-Skopje rail link, and Memorandum of Understanding between the Bulgarian Executive Agency for Promotion of Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises and North Macedonia's Agency for Promotion of Entrepreneurship. Аgriculture, Rural Development and Forestry Agriculture Minister Ivan Ivanov and North Macedonia's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy Ljupco Nikolovski signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two ministries for cooperation in the area of agriculture, agrarian science, rural development and forestry. The document envisages advancing cooperation between the two countries in agriculture through an exchange of information and transfer of expertise, exchange of good practices, implementation of joint research projects and cross-border cooperation in rural areas. Bulgaria undertakes to share its experience in connection with accessing EU's Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance. Transport A plan for the development of the project for a rail link between Sofia and Skopje, an assessment of investment costs and a survey into possibilities for funding from the EU and international institutions are part of the tasks of a joint Working Group on Infrastructure, Transport and Connectivity. This is envisaged in a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of the Sofia-Skopje rail link between Bulgaria and North Macedonia as a basis for conducting negotiations. The document was signed by Bulgarian Transport Minister Nikolay Sabev and his Macedonian counterpart Blagoj Bochvarski. The rail link is of strategic an economic importance for the citizens and the economies of the two countries. Its construction will integrate fully the rail networks of the two countries in the Trans-European Transport Network. Sabev has taken the initiative to organize a meeting with his Albanian and Macedonian counterparts to urge the European Comission to include the Sofia-Skopje railway link in the Western Balkans transport corridor, Ministry reported. The first flight on the regular line Sofia-Skopje can take place already in March, Bulgarian and North-Macedonian Transport Ministers said after signing a joint declaration on the wish for the estbalishment of an airline between the two countries. Bulgarian representatives of the executive power and tour operator companies are envisaged to board the flight and negotiate future tourist packages with their colleagues from Skopje. The two sides also signed a declaration of intent to cut the roaming charges between the two countries. Work on New Border Crossing to be Stepped Up The two countries will speed up work for the opening of a new crossing on their common border. An agreement on that was reached by Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Regional Development and Public Works Minister Grozdan Karadjov, the Macedonian Transport and Communications Minister Bochvarski and Local Self-Government Minister Goran Milevski at a meeting of the Infrastructure Working Group, Karadjov's Ministry said in a press release. The completion and rehabilitation of the roads leading to the Klepalo Border Checkpoint from Stroumyani, Bulgaria, and Berovo, North Macedonia, will be financed with 10.3 million euro under the bilateral Cross-Border Cooperation Programme 2021-2027. Bulgaria has already started work on improving the 37-km road from Stroumyani to the border, the Ministry said. At the meeting, Karadjov informed his counterparts that the Stanke Lisichkovo Border Checkpoint (on the road between Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, and Delchevo, North Macedonia) will be expanded shortly by adding new separate lanes for the processing of the increased traffic of passengers and vehicles and constructing new buildings to accommodate the passport and customs control services, which will shorten substantially waiting time at the border. The ministers also discussed the finishing of Pan-European Transport Corridor VIII (Brindisi-Durres-Tirana-Skopje-Deve Bair-Gyueshevo-Sofia- Plovdiv-Bourgas/Varna-Poti-Batumi). Karadjov said that the corridor's road infrastructure in Bulgaria is constructed with the exception of the Black Sea Motorway (between Bourgas and Varna). Sofia prioritizes a widening of the 62-km Corridor VIII road section between Gyueshevo and Dupnitsa. Financing for the project has been planned in the three-year budget framework of the Road Infrastructure Agency. The sides also discussed the preparation of the bilateral Cross-Border Cooperation Programme, which the European Commission is expected to approve shortly. The Programme will give the two countries access to over 31 million euro (almost double compared to the previous period) for the period ending in 2027. The funding is earmarked for the new border crossing and projects in environmental protection, regional connectivity, promotion of economic growth, culture, the natural heritage, sustainable tourism and security in the border regions. A total of 73 projects worth 18.1 million euro-plus were implemented in the two countries' border areas under the previous programme between 2014 and 2020. Economy, Innovations and Growth Innovations and Growth Minister Daniel Lorer and North Macedonia's Minister of Economy Kreshnik Bekteshi signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bulgarian Executive Agency for Promotion of Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises and North Macedonia's Agency for Promotion of Entrepreneurship. The memorandum will aid the development of bilateral economic cooperation. Acknowledging the strategic importance of the development of small and medium-sized businesses for boosting employment, economic and social stability, the sides undertake to aid the businesses of the respective countries and establish and maintain various forms of cooperation. Under the memorandum the two agencies will partner in the development of small and medium-sized businesses by providing real opportunities for expanding contacts between businesses from the two countries. The sides undertake to exchange information in relation to commerce, possibilities for investment, policies and measures implemented by the two governments to promote the internationalization of small and medium-sized companies. The two sides will cooperate in the organization of promotional events in favour of SMEs. Justice During a meeting of the working group on European Cooperation: Green Transition and Digital Transformation, the Justice Ministers of the two countries discussed how they would cooperate. Participating in the session were the Minister for Good Governance, Kalina Konstantinova, Environment and Water Minister Borislav Sandov, who is also deputy prime minister for climate policies, Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova and e-Government Minister Bozhidar Bozhanov. North Macedonia was represented by the Deputy Prime Ministers for European Affairs, Bojan Maricikj, and for Good Governance, Slavica Grkovska, and Environment Minister Naser Nuredini. The Bulgarian Justice Minister proposed that Bulgarian experts share with North Macedonia counterparts their experience in accomplishing key projects for reforming the judiciary and introducing e-justice. She focused on the government's efforts to combat corruption and the restructuring of the anti-corruption commission, and the Bulgarian experience in using mediation as an alternative method for dispute resolution, among other issues. The two sides agreed to continue work on expert level.

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