The large margins for further growth of the already strong Greek-Bulgarian relations in the economic sector were stressed by Greek President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias in Sofia on Thursday, in a greeting to the inauguration of the Greece-Bulgaria Business Forum taking place in the Bulgarian capital with the participation of more than 200 large and small and medium size (SME) enterprises from both countries.

"Despite the difficult international economic conjuncture, the level of Greek-Bulgarian relations is steadily expanding in a wide range of sectors, such as, indicatively, commerce, the economy, tourism, investments, energy and others," said Papoulias, who arrived in Sofia on Wednesday on a two-day state visit.

Papoulias noted that the bulk of bilateral trade was constantly increasing, and Bulgaria is now one of Greece's most significant partners, holding 4th place among buyers of Greek products, while Greece is Bulgaria's second biggest customer, absorbing 9.4 percent of Bulgaria's overall exports.

"Greece's significant contribution to Bulgaria's economic growth is also mirrored by the presence of Greek enterprises in Bulgaria, with the total Greek capital invested in the country exceeding 2.8 billion euros," Papoulias noted.

He added that Greek direct foreign investments in Bulgaria were currently the 4th largest, while more than 1,500 Greek enterprises are active in the neighboring country in the entire range of economic life, and mainly in the sectors of telecoms, banks, fiscal and consulting services, industry, food, metallurgy and infrastructures, contributing dynamically to the modernisaton of the Bulgarian economy and the creation of more than 100,000 jobs.

Papoulias further noted that Greece, in the context of the Hellenic Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans (HiPERB), has approved 14 proposals for private productive investments in Bulgaria, of which 10 have already been completed.

Noting the long-standing and successful presence of Greek consulting companies in Bulgaria, he stressed: "Given the inflow of EU funds to Bulgaria, the coordinated effort being made by the Bulgarian state for further improvement of its absorption rate and in general the country's developmental initiatives in recent years, the field of action of the consulting firms is widening and the opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration between Greek and Bulgarian companies in this field are increasing."

Noting that Greek-Bulgarian relations, in recent years, "have made a positive and at the same time qualitative leap", resulting in the two friendly countries evolving into strategic partners and comprising "a precious example of good neighborhood and mutual respect in the wider region", Papoulias expressed his conviction that this close bilateral relationship comprises a pillar of security and stability for all of Europe".

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov described the Forum as a "key element" of Papoulias' visit to Sofia.

Expressing pleasure that the economic crisis has not essentially affected, nor caused reverberations, in the economic relations between the two countries, he stressed that "this is good news".

Greece has for years been among Bulgaria's best trade partners, he said, noting that Greek investments in the country over the last 15 years have exceeded 3.5 billion euros.

He named several examples of "auspicious impact" of Greek investments in the Bulgarian economy, such as the Greek Viochalko Group that this year re-hired all the workers it had been obliged to lay off from the large steel mill in the city of Pernik, the Aktor Group's successful activity in the construction of the Trakia Highway, and the dynamic activity of the TERMA Group in several major projects throughout Bulgaria.

Parvanov also noted the dynamic development of relations between SMEs of the two countries, while he also predicted that the tourism flow on the joint Greek-Bulgarian borders will break all records by the end of the year.

"In the wider context of our rising economic cooperating, we place particular emphasis on energy," Parvanov said, stressing: "Indeed, due to their strategic position, Greece and Bulgaria have the opportunity for important natural gas and oil distribution pipelines to pass through the two countries. In this way, we will not only guarantee energy security here in the Balkans, but we will also contribute to the energy security of Europe."

Parvanov further noted that the dynamic growth of bilateral relations of the recent years is first of all a consequence and outcome of the traditional ties of friendship between Greeks and Bulgarians, their mutual confidence in the institutions, but also the unanimous support of all the political forces of the two countries, regardless of any political changes in the two countries.