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Successful Projects, Operational Programme Measures Presented at "Europe in the Balkans: A Common Future" Conference in Vratsa

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A local conference under BTA’s project "Europe in the Balkans: A Common Future" took place at the BTA National Press Club in Vratsa on Tuesday.
The participants, representing City Hall, the Vratsa Regional Information Centre (VRIC), the Vratsa Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park, presented successfully implemented projects backed by the EU cohesion funds in the 2014-2020 programming period and new aspects in the 2021-2027 programming period, approved concepts of integrated territorial investments and opened measures under various programmes.
Expert Grozdan Temnishki of VRIC said that the open procedures under Operational Programme Human Resource Development, Operational Programme Innovation and Competitiveness and other operational programmes will be presented at forthcoming meetings in municipalities of the region.
VRIC’s Stanislav Tonov said that 227 contracts aggregating BGN 186 million-plus were implemented in Vratsa Region under the EU Cohesion Policy during the 2007-2013 programming period. In the next programming period (2014-2020), the contracts already total 1,222, and the funds invested have sextupled to over BGN 720 million.
Vratsa Municipality is the region’s leader in the absorption of EU funds during the latest programming period: BGN 399,144,120 for 652 contracts with 489 beneficiaries. At the bottom of the list is Hayredin Municipality: 28 contracts for a little over BGN 9 million. Municipality-to-municipality disparities are significant, while the target is even development regionwide, Tonov commented. He noted that the administrative burden on applicants for EU funding is being eased. 
"On the whole, the regions in the Northwest are developing in the right direction. The number of contracts concluded tends to increase. Funding is available, and it is up to business, municipalities and the non-governmental sector to implement meaningful and purposeful projects," the expert commented.
Ralitsa Geshovska, head of the Vratsa Municipality Programmes and Projects Department, presented a concept for integrated territorial investment titled "Green solutions for sustainable development of the Northwestern Planning Region". Its purpose is to apply an integrated solution to the identified needs and problems, contributing to the development of five municipalities: Vratsa, Montana, Byala Slatina, Borovan and Mizia. The concept covers seven activities/projects targeting seven sectors: healthcare, culture, transport, environment, economy, tourism and sport.
Geshovska said that the concept has been approved and Vratsa Municipality will be a direct beneficiary. The municipality has applied with another concept, titled "Vratsa Green City." "Once the lists are finalized, the Ministry of Environment and Water is ready to open the scheme," said the expert, adding that applying for funding is expected to be possible within six months after the release of the lists. 
Expert Svetla Borisova of the Vratsa Chamber of Commerce and Industry presented three projects implemented with financing under the Romania-Bulgaria and Bulgaria-Serbia Interreg Programmes. The projects are about tourism and promote the region in an innovative way. The Chamber is currently implementing another project intended to prompt cooperation with organizations active in cultural tourism and traditional food. The project incentivizes sustainability and green solutions in the food services sector, promotes a link with local communities and the use of local products, and offers a replicable model, Borisova explained. 
In her words, the first European gelato road will be established under the project, which will ensure support to and raise awareness of cultural tourism by linking operators, suppliers, producers and consumers of craft gelato and popularizing new tourist destinations.
The participants in the local conference were also familiarized with a project that the Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park implemented under the Bulgaria-Romania 2014-2020 Interreg Programme. The territories of parks on both sides of the Danube: Vrachanski Balkan in Bulgaria and Iron Gates in Romania, were digitized within the framework of the project, Vrachanski Balkan expert Olya Genova explained. In her words, a very high precision scanning was done and the resulting 3D models of the parks are already available online.
At the end of the conference, all participants concurred on a proposal by Geshovska for the tourism projects that were presented and the future ones should provide a link on their internet platforms to other similar projects developed for the region. In this way, the Bulgarian and foreign users of the website will get full information about the region’s offerings in cultural, culinary, religion, festival and other types of tourism, Geshovska explained.
BTA’s Europe in the Balkans project is supported by the European Commission. It aims to foster a better understanding of the role of cohesion policy in the Balkans; to raise awareness of projects funded by the EU through the Cohesion Funds; promote dialogue on the results of the projects at local level and boost civic participation in issues related to cohesion policy.
The project is funded with EUR 348,871. To achieve the project’s aims, BTA is using a media mix and expects to reach out to between 700,000 and 1 million people in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkiye. 
The series of conferences under the project was launched on December 20, 2023 in Sofia. The programme for 2024 includes discussions in the cities of Blagoevgrad, Burgas, Dobrich, Gabrovo, Haskovo, Kardzhali, Kazanlak, Kyustendil, Lovech, Montana, Pazardzhik, Pernik, Pleven, Plovdiv, Razgrad, Samokov, Shumen, Silistra, Sliven, Smolyan, Sofia, Stara Zagora, Targovishte, Varna, Vidin, Vratsa and Yambol, as well as cross-border conferences in Belgrade, Bosilegrad, Bucharest, Edirne, Skopje and Thessaloniki.

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