With his visit to Sofia, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, pursued the continuation of high-level meetings between representatives of Switzerland and Bulgaria, which have become more frequent in recent years. Bulgaria, among other things the country of origin of the writer Elias Canetti, the singer Sylvie Vartan and the packaging artist Christo, has been a member of NATO since 2004 and the EU since 2007, and aims to join Schengen. It assumed the presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2018, during which time it invited Switzerland to participate in various meetings. That strengthened cooperation between the two countries.
Mr Cassis thanked Ms Zaharieva for this expression of good bilateral relations. Ms Zaharieva briefed Mr Cassis on the implementation of the priorities of Bulgaria's EU Council presidency (future of Europe and youth, stability and security, digital economy, Western Balkans). Mr Cassis for his part explained the status of negotiations between Switzerland and the EU on a framework agreement. Another topic of discussion was economic cooperation between Switzerland and Bulgaria, which has grown in recent years. In 2017, the trade volume reached around CHF 700 million with a Swiss trade balance surplus of around CHF 70 million. With direct investments of around CHF 1.25 billion in 2016, Switzerland is the tenth largest investor in Bulgaria. More than 9,300 people are employed by Swiss companies in Bulgaria.
In this context, Mr Cassis spoke with Ms Zaharieva about vocational education and training, which is a priority of Switzerland's enlargement contribution in Bulgaria.
That is why Mr Cassis visited the DOMINO project in Sofia, in which Switzerland is lending Bulgaria its expertise to review the national vocational training system. With DOMINO, Switzerland has helped to introduce dual vocational training (a combination of general theoretical teaching units in school with practical on-the-job training) in specific specialist areas, including professions in food technology and mechanical engineering, and training as a chef, electronics technician or carpenter. To ensure that the reforms have a long-term impact, the project involves private companies, industry associations, business organisations and state institutions, similarly to the Swiss vocational training model. In the current school year, 1,134 pupils are undergoing dual training in 32 vocational schools in 19 cities across Bulgaria. More than 170 companies are now involved.
The DOMINO project is one of 12 programmes and projects that Switzerland is supporting in Bulgaria within the framework of the enlargement contribution. Switzerland is thus helping to reduce economic and social inequalities in the enlarged EU. With a total of CHF 76 million, Switzerland is providing support in those areas in which Bulgaria needs to improve and Switzerland can offer knowledge and expertise. Important areas include security and reforms, support for civil society, integration of minorities, environment and infrastructure, promotion of the private sector, research and education. The focus is on projects that contribute to reducing disparities between the least and the most developed regions of Bulgaria and to improving bilateral cooperation. In November 2006, the Swiss electorate voted in favour of supporting the new EU member states within the framework of the enlargement contribution.
With a view to a possible second Swiss contribution, Mr Cassis underlined to Ms Zaharieva in Sofia that the Federal Council would determine how to proceed once the consultation process had been completed, taking into account the overall relations between Switzerland and the EU.
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