7 December 2014 marks the end of the first phase of Switzerland's support for Bulgaria and Romania, as part of the Swiss enlargement contribution. From 2009 to 2014, Switzerland set clear objectives for its involvement in these two countries and selected 28 projects and 13 thematic funds with a view to achieving these. The latter comprise numerous individual projects covering the following seven themes: safety and security, civil society, partnerships, integration of Romany people, healthcare, research, and scholarships.
The projects were proposed by Bulgaria and Romania and examined in detail by Switzerland. These specific, targeted projects are all due to be completed by December 2019. The SDC and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) are monitoring their practical implementation on Switzerland's behalf. To this end, they opened an office in Bucharest in 2010 and another in Sofia in 2012.
Through these 28 projects and 13 thematic funds, Switzerland aims to achieve the following five objectives:
1. Promoting economic growth and improving working conditions
In Romania, there are many projects seeking to boost the country's growth. Some, for example, support the creation of an investment fund for SMEs, training programmes and certification measures aimed at developing Romanian exports and the professionalization of the financial sector. Support for vocational guidance for young people and the awarding of scholarships round off efforts to meet this objective.
In Bulgaria, promoting the dual system of vocational education and training as well as clarifying public procurement procedures feature among the selected projects. The procurement process should take account of aspects such as finances and, in particular, ecological and social sustainability. A clearly structured public procurement process also counteracts the risk of corruption.
2. Improving social security
The projects devoted to social security aim, among other things, to bring about a general improvement in the living conditions of Romany people and other ethnic minorities and the establishment of basic medical care and of home nursing and care system.
3. Protecting the environment
In Romania, Switzerland is supporting the introduction of the Energy City label, a management concept that has proven its worth for municipalities wishing to implement a sustainable energy policy. It is jointly financing nine priority infrastructure projects (district heating, public transport, the energy-efficient renovation and lighting of public buildings) in four pilot cities. It is also supporting the national institutionalisation of the label.
In Bulgaria, Switzerland is supporting the safe and environmentally-friendly disposal of pesticide residues dating from the Communist era. Another project is setting up centres for sorting and collecting hazardous household waste in 22 municipalities, which are serving as pilot towns for the development of a national concept in this domain.
4. Improving public safety and security
Some of the projects financed by Switzerland also aim to provide Bulgarians and Romanians with a more secure living environment, by for example fighting corruption, organised crime and human trafficking. To control illegal immigration, the Romanian border police, for instance, are following training programmes and using an automatic fingerprint recognition system. Meanwhile, the Romanian police have the option of taking Romany language courses giving them the chance to gain a better understanding of this minority.
In Bulgaria, Switzerland has chosen to support judicial system reforms to ensure that effective action is taken against economic crime and that illegally acquired goods are returned.
5. Strengthening civil society
Civil society, in particular the domains of social services and environmental protection, is being strengthened by the transfer of knowledge and exchange of experiences between Swiss, Romanian and Bulgarian institutions and municipalities. In Romania, for example, Switzerland is financing a partnership between a Swiss association supporting abandoned children and a Romanian NGO. In Bulgaria, it is encouraging the growing and trading of organic products with the aid of Swiss market players.
Certain projects supported by Switzerland are underway and are already bearing tangible fruit: in Bulgaria, four municipalities can call on home nursing and care services and some 20 farmers can already grow organic products and conduct direct sales; in Romania, 57 SMEs now have access to an investment fund, around 100 Romanian police officers have followed Romany language courses, and four Romanian towns are applying a sustainable energy policy.
Benefits for Switzerland
Although not a member of the European Union, Switzerland has every interest in financing projects in the EU's new member states, since the European Union remains its number one trading partner. Thus, the basic idea behind the enlargement contribution is to help these countries achieve the average EU growth rate and reduce the economic and social disparities between the member states.