Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will be visiting Bulgaria on Wednesday and Thursday at the invitation of her Bulgarian counterpart Rosen Plevneliev, the first president to have officially visited Zagreb during Grabar-Kitarovic's term in office.
Grabar-Kitarovic will be given a welcome ceremony in St. Alexander Nevsky Square, where she will lay a wreath at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier.
After that, she will hold one-to-one talks with the Bulgarian president at his office, and the two countries' delegations will hold a meeting.
The two presidents will also address participants in a Bulgarian-Croatian business forum, to be organised as part of efforts to boost the cooperation between the two countries.
Grabar-Kitarovic will give a talk on European solidarity at the Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski.
On Thursday, the Croatian president will meet with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and she will end her visit to Bulgaria by meeting with representatives of the Croat community in that country.
Plevneliev visited Croatia in mid-April 2015 and was the first head of state to meet with Grabar-Kitarovic.
The two presidents confirmed then that Croatia and Bulgaria had very good political relations, free of any outstanding issues, and a lot of things in common.
They supported the integration of all Southeast European countries with Euro-Atlantic associations, and expressed interest in developing closer cooperation in the energy sector, infrastructure development, and in efforts to enter the Schengen passport-free area of travel.
Bulgaria joined the EU together with Romania in 2007, however, the two countries are still not part of the Schengen area despite the fact that they have been meeting technical requirements for several years, because some EU members are against it for political reasons.
The two countries are expected to improve court efficiency and the fight against corruption, and, in Bulgaria's case, the fight against organised crime, which the European Commission has been following through its Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).
EC President Jean-Claude Juncker has promised that the monitoring regime will be cancelled by the end of his term in 2019 if the EC and member-countries are satisfied with the progress made. In the last CVM report in January this year, the EC was still not satisfied, notably with Bulgaria.
Around 1,500 people of Croat descent live in Bulgaria, according to information from the State Office for Croats Abroad. Croats settled in Bulgaria in several turns, and most arrived from Janjevo in Kosovo in the early 20th century. At the time they saw their future in Sofia as tradespeople and jewelers. The presence of Croats in Shumen, Sofia and Plovdiv can be traced back to the 18th century.
Croats who live in Bulgaria do not have the status of an ethnic minority.
The only Croatian association in Bulgaria, "The Cultural and Educational Association of Croats in Bulgaria", was established in 2005. It has 35 members and it organises Croatian-language courses, various celebrations and cultural and educational events. The Bulgarian parliament includes a Bulgarian-Croatian friendship group, which is one of the most numerous parliamentary friendship groups.
The University in Sofia includes a department for South Slavic languages where Croatian, Slovenian and Serbian are studied.
The University of Saint Paisius of Hilendar in Plovdiv, too, offers a Croatian-language programme.
The economic cooperation between Croatia and Bulgaria is still not satisfactory. Trade has decreased since the start of the recession, but in the last two-three years Croatian exports to Bulgaria have been going up as have imports from Bulgaria.
In 2015 bilateral trade amounted to EUR 163.4 million and in 2014 it was EUR 138 million.
Croatia's exports to Bulgaria in 2015 amounted to EUR 67.9 million while imports from that country totalled EUR 95.5 million.
Bulgarian and Croatian business people are interested in a closer cooperation in the energy sector, transport infrastructure, tourism, the ICT sector, the military and food industries and agriculture.