Anthi Panagiotou works as European Project Manager at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Xanthi, in Greece, near the border with Bulgaria.
“I am responsible for managing European and national programs and also tourism development. In this capacity, for several years we have been trying to promote sustainable economic and social development in the cross-border areas of both countries through joint projects and initiatives”, she explains.
“We focus on enhancing competitiveness, supporting innovation, protecting the environment, improving accessibility and promoting social inclusion and cultural exchanges between regions on both sides of the border”, she adds.
Through her work, Anthi has learned about the challenges faced by Bulgarian SMEs to set up a business in Greece. This is mostly caused by the various administrative and regulatory requirements to establish a firm and a lack of understanding on the business climate in the neighbouring region.
The problem also affects Greek businesses that are interested in establishing in Bulgaria, limiting therefore the development of a strong cross-border labour market which could benefit workers, SMEs and the overall population on both sides of the border.
In order to determine what may be the best strategies to encourage and facilitate cross-border business creation along the Greek-Bulgarian border, the Chamber of Xanthi applied to receive support through b-solutions.
Anthi describes what it felt like to take part in b-solutions: ”We all know many problems and difficulties that exist in cross-border areas but we do not know the cause. So through this collaboration, an understanding of the obstacles is provided with a clear focus on how to solve them. This is important.”
The task was given to two experts, Eugeniy Ivanov from Bulgaria and Themistoklis Chatzikonstantinou from Greece.
In the report they drew, the experts offered a number of potential solutions to assist cross-border entrepreneurs, including:
wide-scale awareness and information campaigns as well as cross-border events for promoting intraregional business opportunities;
establishing a new European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) oriented towards cross-border business;
enhancing the cooperation between the state institutions responsible for investments and business support in an effort to encourage mutual investments and the establishment of joint business incubators/accelerators, industrial zones, etc.
“The report offers valuable insights and recommendations to improve the business environment and promote economic development in the sectors (…) It is a tool to strengthen entrepreneurship between the two regions, always for the benefit of local societies”, says Anthi.
Reflecting on the impact of b-solutions at the macro-level, she concludes: “By promoting cross-border cooperation, this program and others like it aim to create a stronger sense of unity and solidarity between neighbouring countries, leading to economic growth, improved infrastructure, better social services, and increased cultural understanding in the regions involved. These initiatives have the potential to bring significant benefits to both Greece and Bulgaria and contribute to the overall development and stability of the European Union.”