The ESC was established in 2001 as “a consultative body expressing the will and the structures of the civil society for the economic and social development”. Lalko Dulevski was elected president of the ESC by the Bulgarian National Assembly in September 2003. Prior to his mandate, he was a lecturer on labour-market and social-security issues, and he served on the boards of a bank, a pension insurance company and Bulgaria’s National Employment Agency.
Professor Dulevski, is there an urgent need for attracting Bulgarians back from abroad?
I want to make it clear that it is just an idea and it is prompted by the lack of qualified workforce in Bulgaria, which is becoming more pressing in the business sector. As a general tendency, Bulgarians living abroad do wish to return to the country, given that they have good conditions and opportunities to work, to invest and to start small- or medium-sized businesses. The experience of some other EU members, like Spain, Portugal and Ireland, shows that there was an upsurge of emigration before accession, which was stopped when governments acted economically smart and put structural and cohesion funds to the right use.
Which economic measures do you suggest?
We have to deal with numerous complex and interdependent factors. At the ESC, we believe that emigrants should be given an opportunity to realise what they have gathered in experience, knowledge and know-how that can be applied in Bulgaria. If we make administrative and legal procedures easier, it will not be difficult to convince them to establish and develop their businesses here.
We should not underestimate the effect that this can have on the Bulgarian economy as a whole. In developed countries, on average two thirds of new jobs are created by small- and medium-sized businesses, and Bulgaria is no exception to this tendency. There are huge investment opportunities in fields like tourism – especially cultural and rural tourism – and agriculture. The state should really provide for incentives for more investors in those branches. The way to do this is by mastering EU funds.
What kinds of tax relief can be implemented?
Look at the experience of the Baltic countries. They cut down sharply on taxes, which led to a surge in investments and to people moving to the country, because the environment became favorable. This is the normal reaction of entrepreneurs.
How can the pre-accession and cohesion funds be used for attracting Bulgarians living abroad?
There is no linear relationship between those two processes. When living conditions in Bulgaria improve, more Bulgarians will look into coming back, and that will happen on a steady basis if we manage to master all the EU funds. If all funds are utilied accordingly, in three to four years Bulgaria will have a brand-new infrastructure, well-developed, high-quality agriculture, a clean environment, good telecommunications standards and so on. All of these factors contribute to better living standards.
Are you optimistic that young Bulgarians will return?
Bulgaria has a lot of experience and tradition in this matter. Only a century ago, a large part of modern Bulgaria was created by people who studied, worked and made fortunes abroad and who then came back with their businesses and became big investors and donors to the arts. Bulgarians are not an emigrants at heart, they go abroad to make a living. Bulgarians are abroad as a result of constraints in Bulgaria, they are there because life is hard at the moment. And as long as they are abroad, they will always nurse a feeling that there is a way back to the homeland. They are just waiting for the right moment.
Interview by Violeta Kalapova of EurActiv’s Bulgarian partner portal Dnevnik