Transatlantic cooperation is essential for the future development of Southeastern Europe and the Black Sea region, said Dr. Rumiana Jeleva, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, at a Woodrow Wilson Center Director's Forum. Lasting stability in the region could only be achieved through close cooperation between the EU and the United States to advance economic development, the rule of law, human rights, transparency, and good governance. EU enlargement remains the most effective mechanism to achieve these goals, the Minister suggested. Jeleva also stressed the need to reach EU agreement on addressing key challenges facing Europe, including integration of the Western Balkans, energy security, and cooperation in the Black Sea region.

As a NATO and EU member, Bulgaria continues to support the integration of the Western Balkans into the transatlantic community by providing assistance to defense, political and judicial reform efforts. Bulgaria also seeks to engage actively in regional dialogue with all concerned actors through the "Southeast European Cooperation Process," the leading political format for promoting economic and social development. In particular, Jeleva expressed her hope for a solution that would allow Kosovo to engage fully in such regional structures regardless of the "status" issue.

Energy security remains a major concern. As one of the countries severely affected by last January's energy crisis, Bulgaria has repeatedly called for a stronger EU policy in improving and diversifying energy supplies. With investments of about 1.7 billion Euro (USD 2.5 billion) in energy-related infrastructure projects (including inter-connectors between pipelines and reverse flow capability), Bulgaria seeks to become a key transit country for Europe's energy supplies. Sofia is also exploring the economic possibilities of the Nabucco and South Stream projects. Minister Jeleva stressed that a common EU policy was critical to Bulgaria's maintaining a strong bargaining position.

As chairman of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), and in partnership with its NATO partners Romania and Turkey, Bulgaria seeks to improve the functional capabilities of the BSEC. The organization will provide an important forum for strengthening regional security cooperation and economic integration. Bulgaria will also seek to use the BSEC forum to support dialogue between the EU and non-EU members in the region such as Moldova and Georgia in several areas, including tourism, science and technology, transport and "soft security."

The Minister also emphasized the importance of U.S. influence in the region and the need to expand the EU-US partnership.

Given its experience with EU and NATO accession, coupled with its profound cultural and historical ties to the Black Sea and Southeast Europe regions, the Foreign Minister concluded, Bulgaria is in a position to play a key role in supporting development and prosperity for its neighbors.