All nine projects and six thematic funds were completed by December 2019. Most of the initial objectives were achieved and in some projects even exceeded.
Results in Bulgaria
An overview of the results:
Reform of vocational education and training (VET)
Bulgaria launched a new project in 2015 to help young people enter the job market. The project was based on Switzerland's dual education system. From the start of the 2018 school year, there were 32 vocational schools in 19 towns throughout the country which, together with more than 170 partner companies, trained 1,600 apprentices in 12 occupations with a completely overhauled curriculum. At the same time, much progress was made in VET reform with the participation of all stakeholders. An important milestone was reached in May 2018 with the enactment of the ordinance on dual vocational education and training, which was amended on the basis of the project's recommendations.
A total of 22 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers completed a research residency at a Swiss university thanks to a scholarship. Thirteen projects in the fields of ecology, social sciences, medicine and engineering are currently under way as part of a Bulgarian-Swiss research programme. Both of these programmes have boosted the international networking of Bulgarian researchers and research institutions, as demonstrated by the various articles published in renowned scientific journals. This type of programme also aims at retaining and building the scientific community in Bulgaria. For example, 71% of the 97 Bulgarian researchers who benefited from the programme expressed their intention to pursue an academic career in their own country.
Switzerland helped Bulgaria improve the underlying conditions for sustainable public procurement. To this end, a market analysis was conducted on sustainable products in Bulgaria. A new handbook will assist the Bulgarian authorities in applying sustainable criteria in public procurement.
Nursing and care at home
A home care system can improve the quality of life for people with a chronic illness or disability and for the elderly. The system tested in Bulgaria was based on Switzerland's home care system ('Spitex'), recognised for its efficiency and quality. In four municipalities of the Vratsa district, one of the poorest regions in Europe, 734 patients now benefit from nursing and care at home throughout the entire project cycle. The project also highlighted the possibilities of integrating the Roma minority, whether as patients (15%) or among healthcare staff as home carers (25%). In future, the home care system is to be extended to the whole country. The Bulgarian Parliament is supporting this development: Legislative amendments have been adopted providing for the inclusion of these socio-medical services in the public health system.
Social inclusion of the Roma and other minorities
The Swiss programme supported the Bulgarian government's work at the local level to implement the national strategy for the integration of Roma (2012–20). For example, new kindergarten facilities improved access to childcare services. Early enrolment, Bulgarian language teaching, classroom support, extracurricular activities and the use of educational mediators proved to be effective means of promoting the integration of minorities into the school system. More than 5000 children have benefited from this to date. In addition, health mediators raised awareness of issues related to disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices among over 15,000 members of the Roma community. They have encouraged the use of primary healthcare centres, in particular for monitoring pregnancies and vaccinating children. In 2018, the function of educational mediator was officially recognised as a profession in the Bulgarian education system.
A Swiss firm delivered 28 decommissioned trams from Basel's transport system to Sofia. In this way, Switzerland is helping to improve the public transport system in Sofia and at the same time reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. In addition, the city planners worked together with a specialist firm to develop a concept for sustainable mobility in Sofia.
Switzerland assisted with the environmentally sound disposal of around 3,800 tonnes of old toxic pesticides stored in warehouses all over the country. Bulgaria also set up collection points for hazardous household waste in five municipalities.
Improving border security
The abolition of checks on persons within the Schengen area requires enhanced police cooperation between the national SIRENE offices and SIS II (Schengen Information System) as regards information exchange. The Swiss-Bulgarian project has helped to raise the level of professionalism of Bulgaria's SIRENE office and has consolidated the Bulgarian-Swiss partnership.
Preventing and combating human trafficking
Close cooperation with Swiss authorities and civil society organisations makes it easier to identify and support victims of human trafficking in Bulgaria and Switzerland. In 2018, over 200 victims received assistance at the newly opened 34-bed transit centre of the NGO ANIMUS in Sofia. Two newly opened national reception centres in the capital offer comprehensive and long-term assistance to victims. Also, 150 victims identified abroad received return assistance and support for their reintegration in Bulgaria. Prevention campaigns have been launched to prevent human trafficking, and a new hotline for victims of human trafficking is available around the clock.
Regional development and nature conservation
Switzerland promotes sustainable agriculture in protected areas, the development of regional products and ecological tourism in the poorest peripheral regions of Bulgaria. Bulgarian and Swiss NGOs have supported 45 farms in producing and marketing dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese directly on the farm. The project also launched a weekly farmers' market in Sofia. Initial studies show that direct sales can generate three times as much income. The farmers' market in Sofia serves as a role model, and the Ministry of Agriculture is planning financial aid for other towns interested in setting up similar farmers' markets. A coalition of 23 NGOs and civic groups called 'For Nature in Bulgaria' represents a model for cooperation. Their actions have led to a broad mobilisation of the population, with a sharp rise in the number of Bulgarian citizens participating in the coalition from 7,000 in 2012 to 31,000 in 2017. Thanks to their proximity to Sofia, individual regions also have great potential for tourism. NGOs have therefore been looking for local companies to contribute to a fund. The money has been used, for example, to finance hiking trails and picnic areas and to restore natural areas. This makes the region more attractive for tourism, with a positive knock-on effect on local businesses' sales figures in the long term.
Civil society fund
A total of 45 NGOs obtained financial support from a fund to promote and strengthen civil society participation in the economic and social development of the country. The projects supported are in relation to social and environmental matters. These activities have enabled the NGOs concerned to strengthen their capacities, mobilise a degree of public support for their concerns and influence various reforms.
In Bulgaria, 28 partnership projects have been implemented to promote the country's development and the exchange of knowledge and experience in a wide range of areas. These have enabled cooperation between 28 Bulgarian NGOs and 30 Swiss organisations as well as the twinning of Gabrovo with Thun. Existing partnerships are receiving further support through seven projects.