Last updated in October 2017
The Republic of Bulgaria and the Federal Republic of Germany enjoy close ties through their membership of the European Union and NATO. Bilateral political relations are based on partnership and mutual trust, thanks in part to parliamentary friendship groups in the German Bundestag and the Bulgarian National Assembly. There are particularly intensive contacts between Bulgaria and the German federal states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and the Hanns Seidel Foundation all have offices in Sofia.
Bulgaria sees Germany as its key strategic partner in the European Union. Numerous German experts have been and still are active in an advisory capacity in various Bulgarian Government ministries as part of implementation measures connected with the country’s EU accession and EU policy.
Germany and Bulgaria enjoy close economic relations. Since 2014, Germany has positioned itself as Bulgaria’s most important trading partner, ahead of Italy, Romania, Russia and Turkey, and ranks as the largest export market and import source for Bulgaria. Some 5000 German companies conduct trade with Bulgaria, and 1200 of these have predominantly locally managed offices. Bulgaria’s foreign trade totalled 49.7 billion euros in 2016, with bilateral trade between Germany and Bulgaria worth approximately 6.6 billion euros (German exports to Bulgaria amounted to 3.4 billion euros and German imports from Bulgaria 3.2 billion euros). The volume of bilateral trade continues to grow at a brisk pace. German imports from Bulgaria are, however, rising more than German exports to Bulgaria, pointing to a trade surplus in Bulgaria’s favour in 2017. The German-Bulgarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (DBIHK) has more members (540) than any other bilateral chamber of commerce in the country. In the tourism sector, which makes up approximately 13 percent of GDP, Germans comprise the third-largest group of visitors. Numbering as many as 700,000 annually, German tourists mostly visit the Black Sea coast. German development cooperation with Bulgaria, which was officially terminated in 2007 on the country’s accession to the European Union, resulted in the creation of five bilateral vocational training centres.
Bulgaria’s advantages as a business location are comparatively low labour costs and low tax rates, a large number of German-speaking workers, EU membership and the country’s strategic geographical location as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Another advantage is the country’s stable currency.Bulgaria’s main competitive disadvantages are the legal uncertainty due to widespread corruption in its political, administrative and judicial institutions and the lack of skilled labour, especially in the IT sector. Public infrastructure, particularly in the transport and health care sectors but also in the education and research sectors, was long neglected and is well below the EU average. State-owned enterprises are heavily indebted and cannot be privatised – at least not profitably. In addition, according to the World Bank, Bulgaria remains the country most affected by demographic change. The problem is exacerbated by the brain drain caused by the lack of job opportunities and by the poor integration of the country’s Roma population with its higher birth rates.
Cultural cooperation between Germany and Bulgaria has traditionally been good and close. Since German reunification, the cultural agreement of 19 March 1996, along with teacher secondment and school agreements, have laid the foundation for cultural relations.
German is popular as a foreign language, also among the younger generation. It ranks third behind English and Russian among foreign languages taught at Bulgarian schools. German is also very widely taught as a foreign language at Bulgaria’s universities and in adult education. The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is helping to establish German-language programmes and faculties. Academic exchange is mainly promoted through grants from the DAAD, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH). Among young Bulgarians, Germany is one of the most popular foreign study destinations. Numbering approximately 7000, Bulgarians have traditionally been one of the largest groups of foreign students at German universities and other higher education institutions.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.