NEWS

ESC CALLS FOR A NEW ACT OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF MOUNTAINOUS AND SEMI-MOUNTAINOUS REGIONS IN BULGARIA

The Economic and Social Council adopted an Opinion on "Mountainous and Semi-Mountainous Regions in Bulgaria - Problems and Opportunities for Development". The opinion was developed on ESC's own initiative, which takes into account the fact that there are 123 mountainous and semi-mountainous municipalities in Bulgaria that occupy 42.5% of the territory of the country. They provide home to 20.9% of the country's population in 2,555 settlements. At the same time, ESC is worried that these areas, much more than others, suffer from depopulation, underdevelopment and poor quality technical infrastructure, they are lagging behind in their economic development and have limited access to quality public services, especially in terms of healthcare, education and culture.

In its opinion ESC states support for the efforts of the Bulgarian governments to overcome these challenges through action. ESC calls for a clear vision for the development of mountainous regions to build on their own specific potential and capacities, promoting the application of modern science and technology, of alternative solutions, as well as cohesion policy. The opinion notes that the EU has no explicit definition of mountainous regions and it is necessary to start a process of its development, which would also positively influence the formation of the financial framework for the next EU programming period. The opinion argues that mountainous and semi-mountainous regions need complementary support through various EU instruments such as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Structural Funds. In the opinion, ESC points out the criteria for defining the mountainous and semi-mountainous regions - elevation, diversity of relief, slope and climatic contrast.

ESC proposes concrete measures and policies that would create a favorable environment for the development of mountainous areas in the country, such as an integrated strategy for the sustainable development of mountainous and semi-mountainous regions in Bulgaria, the introduction of a mountain product quality standard, the creation of a supportive environment for the development of family businesses and entrepreneurship, a comprehensive review of the standards and mechanisms for reallocating state transfers, taking into account the higher costs of providing services in these municipalities.

The document presents in detail the main characteristics of Bulgarian mountainous regions divided into four main categories. The rich nature-resource potential includes protected areas, plant and animal wealth, water resources and mineral waters (70% of the mineral waters are in these territories), 1/3 of the agricultural fund and 1/4 of the arable land, cultural and historical heritage. Mountainous regions in Bulgaria are characterized by low urbanization and good population (39.4% of the villages and 36.6% of the towns), developed mining industry and monoculture farming.

However, ESC is deeply worried about the outstanding problems in the development of mountainous regions, such as depopulation, which is twice as high as in other parts of the country. Underdeveloped and poor quality technical infrastructure according to the ESC is the reason for the lagging behind of mountainous regions, where about 1/3 of the settlements have no transport links with local and regional centres. The economy is based on small-scale agriculture without a guaranteed connection with the market, and logging almost everywhere is associated with overexploitation of the forests threatening the future of Bulgarian forests. Access to quality services is drastically lagging behind - in over 70% of settlements there is no registered practice of general practitioner, and only 6% of mountain settlements have pharmacies.

Therefore, ESC urges that targeted public investment be directed to mountain areas, which alongside market mechanisms should develop the traditional know-how of the areas of modern agriculture, forestry, tourism, energy, ecosystem services and preservation of the cultural and natural heritage. ESC recommends that the change in policies and instruments be should geared towards revitalizing and diversifying the economy through integrated development and resource engagement of economic sectors in order to increase the added value for these regions. Priority support should be given to small and medium-sized businesses such as family businesses and traditional crafts, to expand the range of end products, develop high-tech and waste-free technologies.

In its opinion, ESC concludes that in order to successfully develop the mountainous and semi-mountainous regions in Bulgaria and to compensate the lagging behind whose results aggravate the prospect of these areas, it is necessary to adopt a special Act of the National Assembly for the mountainous and semi-mountainous regions. ESC also proposes to develop a Programme for improving the transport links of mountainous villages, which should be supported by targeted funds each year. Last but not least, ESC points out the need for municipal programmes to attract young people and specialists in these areas, as well as the existence of professional profiles of the educational institutions in line with the characteristics and prospects of the region.

MISSION

“THE CIVIL PARLIAMENT” OF BULGARIA

is the “bridge” between citizens and the national government. Its mission is to support such “bridging” so as to facilitate the communication between the society and the national government. It is the new and modern institution of the civil dialogue.

The ESC's mission is to promote civil society organisations access to and involvement in the process of decision-making on strategic economic and social issues.

The main goal of ESC's operation is to enable different representatives of organised civil society to feel free to state their views whereas unanimity on matters of common interest is encouraged. The Council expresses and protects civil society interests by communicating agreed statements and proposals submitted by its members to the executive and legislative authorities.

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