Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis visits Romania and Bulgaria

Article, 11.09.2018

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis' trip focused on talks with high-ranking government representatives on bilateral issues, European policy and cooperation to date within the framework of Switzerland's contribution to the enlarged EU. In order to obtain an overview of work on the ground he also visited two projects partly funded by Switzerland's enlargement contribution.

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis observing a young apprentice of a vocational training project during her work.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis is visiting a vocational education training project in Bulgaria supported by Switzerland. Theoretical training in schools is combined with in-company training. © FDFA

Switzerland's bilateral relations with both Romania and Bulgaria are close and continue to deepen. For example, the volume of trade between Switzerland and Romania has increased in the last ten years from CHF 982 million to over CHF 1.4 billion, while the volume of trade between Switzerland and Bulgaria has grown from CHF 409 million to around CHF 700 million over the same period. Since 2009 and until 2019, Switzerland has supported 62 projects in Romania and 12 projects in Bulgaria within the framework of its enlargement contribution. This cooperation also contributes to the further deepening of Switzerland's bilateral relations with both Romania and Bulgaria. Mr Cassis took the opportunity during his trip to visit the following two projects: 

Project visit – the Romanian rescue service

Mr Cassis visited the Romanian rescue service SMURD (mobile service for emergencies, resuscitation and extrication) in western Bucharest. It was founded on the private initiative of a doctor in 1989, as in the aftermath of the Romanian revolution the state rescue service was in very poor condition. Since then, with international support, it has evolved into a nationwide emergency medical service, which can be reached along with the police and fire brigade under the emergency number 112. The availability of this service still varies greatly from region to region, however. Romania has therefore set itself the goal in its national health strategy 2014–20 to improve the quality of nationwide coverage of emergency health services. 

Through its EU enlargement contribution, implemented by the SDC and SECO, Switzerland is helping to achieve this goal, advising the competent authority on a revision of the curricula and training modules for the emergency health services, in order to bring them into line with international standards. Through the SMURD project, doctors provide further training for teachers, and prospective specialists practice emergency procedures in A & E departments.  In addition, air rescue has been further developed with the support of the Swiss Air-Rescue service Rega. 

Visit to vocational schools affiliated to the DOMINO project

Mr Cassis visited the DOMINO project, which is partly funded by Switzerland's enlargement contribution and which capitalises on Swiss expertise to advise Bulgaria on revising its vocational education and training system. 

Many people cannot find gainful employment in Bulgaria and often lack the necessary qualifications to do so. Although youth unemployment has fallen enormously in the last five years, it still stands at 13%. The vocational education and training system is thus in need of urgent reform. At the same time, a growing number of market-oriented companies and branches of industry are also demanding that the state adapt its vocational training programmes to meet the demands of the economy. 

With the DOMINO project, Switzerland is supporting Bulgaria in introducing dual vocational education and training (VET) in certain specialist areas, in developing new training programmes and in providing further training for teachers. The project began with professions in the areas of food technology and mechanical engineering, subsequently also including other trades: building technician, chef, electronics technician, welder and carpenter. The new courses all combine general theoretical lessons in school with practical training in the workplace. The Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science covers 15% of DOMINO's total budget, while Switzerland contributes around CHF 3 million. To ensure that the reforms have a long-term impact, the project involves private companies, industry associations, business organisations and state institutions, as this has proved successful in the Swiss model. 

The results are already tangible: Students at the vocational school for food technologies in Plovdiv and the vocational school for mechanical engineering in Kazanlak (southern Bulgaria) were the first to complete the dual VET programme based on the Swiss model in 2015. One year later, a further 14 schools were added and more than 60 leading Bulgarian and foreign companies became partners in the project. In the current school year, 1,134 apprentices are following dual VET courses in 32 vocational schools in 19 cities across Bulgaria. More than 170 companies are now involved and interest in dual VET programmes continues to grow steadily.