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THE ESC HELD A DEBATE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE RHODOPE REGION WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF THE EESC PRESIDENT HENRY MALOSSE

The organised round table on the “Opportunities for development of the Rhodope region by using the European structural and investment funds and instruments of cross-border cooperation with Greece” by the Economic and Social Council (ESC) on 13th May 2014 in Smolyan brought together nearly 100 people - representatives of state and local authorities, business, social partners and NGOs in the region.

Official guests of the forum were the President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Mr. Henry Malosse, Mrs. Dora Yankov - Member of Parliament, Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on European Affairs and Oversight of the European Funds and Chairperson of the Parliamentary Friendship Group with Greece, the Regional Governor of Region Smolyan dipl.eng. Dimitar Krastanov and Mr. Melemov, Mayor of Smolyan and President of the Association of Rhodope Municipalities.

In his welcoming speech, the ESC President Pro. Lalko Dulevski stressed that the main goal of this event was in an open debate representatives of all stakeholders to discuss concrete practical opportunities for development of the Rhodope region and this to be the first step in this direction.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Malosse noted that 25 years ago the Rhodope region of Bulgaria and this one of neighboring Greece were developed, but separated by a closed border. Nowadays, both countries as members of the EU are in a different position and the question is how to take advantage of this. He stressed that the key to the development of the Rhodope region is investment in education, qualification and tourism, which would further contribute to the development of this region. “Smolyan is two hours away from Thessaloniki, which is currently the most prosperous economic center in Greece, and three hours from Sofia - all this makes the area attractive for tourism, but also for other activities such as for industry, innovation, education and ecological activities related to the environment”, said Mr. Malosse.

In his words the European funds should be used to resume and increase any cross-border activities and cooperation, to seek other opportunities for development of the local economy through dialogue between the state, the local authority and the citizen initiative.

Resources from the European structural and investment funds and the instruments of cross-border cooperation in the new programming period 2014-2020 are a good opportunity that the business and municipalities should use. The Regional Governor of Smolyan presented the measures set out in the Regional Development Plan and the “Community-led local development” instrument, which foresee new opportunities for stimulating the development of the Rhodope region. He stated that there was administrative capacity and development potential of this unique region in the Balkans, so all efforts should be directed at achieving concrete results for the benefit of the community.

Mrs. Dora Yankova, as a former mayor of Smolyan outlined the achievements and the many projects implemented within the current planning period, which were mainly in social infrastructure, but noted as a shortcoming the certain delay in terms of the technical infrastructure renewal. In the next seven years Smolyan region will be able to use the funds from the national operational programmes, under the European Territorial Cooperation and Cross-Border Cooperation Bulgaria-Greece and to implement the new financial instrument “Community-led local development”. “This is a serious resource, but at the same time it is necessary to attract and support the public-private partnerships in order to stimulate the economic activity in the area”, highlighted Mrs. Yankova.

Dora Yankova welcomed the ESC initiative for organising this roundtable in Smolyan and invited the ESC to accept the patronage of such initiatives, aimed at the development of the Rhodope region and the Euroregion “Delta Rhodope”.

In the context of what Mr. Henry Malosse said, Mrs. Yankova proposed a forum “Rhodope” to be created, which to bring together the business, the social partners, the active citizens and to be a platform for discussion of specific actions and development projects in the region. According to local authority representatives this informal body can only be achieved with the participation and support of the ESC and the EESC. The ESC President Prof. Dulevski and the EESC President Henry Malosse declared their support for this initiative.

Great interest received the presentation of Mrs. Maria Duzova, Director General at Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, GD “Territorial Cooperation Management”, who presented the priorities and possibilities of the European Territorial Cooperation Programmes 2014-2020, from which may take advantage beneficiaries in the region from the beginning of the next 2015 year. As a new possibility for Bulgaria and specifically for the Rhodope region municipalities she pointed out the “Balkans - the Mediterranean area” Programme.

In the discussion participated mayors, members of the Association of Rhodope Municipalities, representatives of the tourism association in the region, the Association of Dairy Processors, local business, entrepreneurs, which have received funding from the European programmes, social partners in the area, the media.

I am impressed by the spirit of people of the Rhodope region – a typical Rhodope spirit and the universal desire for unity in solving problems, desire for development of the region, desire to seek all funding opportunities and to make local and other policies, said in conclusion Prof. Dulevski.

He outlined the ideas and proposals of the representatives of local authorities, which can serve as basis of a comprehensive development programme for the region - a programme written by the people themselves. In other words the destiny is in the hands of local people, who with the support of central and local government, with the financial support of EU funds will be able to implement their real projects.

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