First, the good news. In 2022, Bulgaria and Romania jointly announced that they’re starting simultaneous feasibility studies on five locations for the potential construction of new bridges across the Danube. The locations in question are in Silistra- Călărași, Oryahovo-Bechet, Nikopol-Turnu Măgurele, Ruse-Giurgiu, and Svishtov-Zimnicea.
However, challenges are springing up before the studies are even complete. In addition to the two existing facilities, the Danube Bridge between Ruse and Giurgiu and the New Europe Bridge between Vidin and Calafat, Bulgarian is pressing for the first of the new bridges to be constructed in Ruse in northeastern Bulgaria. The Romanian authorities, however, are expressing preferences for the first of the new bridges to connect Zimnicea in Romania with the town of Svishtov in northcentral Bulgaria.
The promising prospect of Danube bridges
As promising as the prospect of five new bridges looks, not much can be done for now, given Bulgaria’s lack of a stable government, which should be the one signing any official documents in this regard. With Bulgaria going for its fifth election in two years in April, the bridges look as far away as ever.
But even if Bulgaria manages to secure a regular government, pleasantries aside, both Bulgaria and Romania have different priorities regarding the Danube River. During the meeting of Ministers of Transportation in Bucharest last year, it became clear that the Romanian side’s priority is the dredging of the river, not the construction of a third bridge.
In Bulgaria, the reformist government of Kiril Petkov of the “We continue the change” party declared at the beginning of its mandate willingness to build “4-5 bridges” during its time in power. But the government lost a vote of confidence in the summer of 2022, putting all good intentions on hold. Furthermore, at the time, no provisions were made for securing the financing for such a large-scale project, which can take at least six-seven years to complete, provided it doesn’t face any obstacles along the way.
Romanian-Bulgarian border to be (finally) reconnected
Meanwhile, in the university town of Svishtov, expectations for the new bridge are running high. “The bridge is vital for the overall development of the region. This is indisputable,” Svishtov’s Deputy Mayor Anelia Dimitrova tells 3Seas Europe.
In the town of Nikopol in northcentral Bulgaria, Ahmed Ahmedov, Deputy Mayor for Construction in Nikopol Municipality, is getting mixed messages from his colleagues on the other side of the Danube. “We know that a new bridge is to be built to connect Nikopol with Turnu Măgurele in Romania. But this information has not been officially confirmed by any competent institution,” Ahmedov says in a conversation with 3Seas Europe. “I have spoken with colleagues in Turnu Măgurele. Once, they told me that the project matters to them, and then, another time, they told me the opposite. There is a discrepancy. And I cannot be certain that the facility will be in our town,” adds Ahmedov. “For us, it is extremely important to have such a bridge because it will bring the area to life economically. There are no two opinions that it will reflect positively on the development of tourism and cultural exchange between our towns and beyond.”
The dream of bridges
As the two existing bridges between Bulgaria and Romania struggle to accommodate traffic due to inadequate infrastructure, the residents of Silistra in northeastern Bulgaria are also waiting for their promised bridge, something they have been doing for more than three decades now.
“We’ve been dreaming of this bridge since the end of the 80s, but unfortunately, this dream still remains an illusion,” says Alexander Sabanov, local businessman and member of Bulgaria’s 44th Parliament. “The bridge will be more than necessary to improve the economic status of the Silistra region, which is less developed than the Vidin region, traditionally seen as the poorest part of Bulgaria. This project will help to increase trade and create new jobs,” Sabanov believes. “The location is already defined in the General Spatial Plan of Silistra. There is readiness on the Bulgarian side, but I do not know whether there is readiness on the Romanian side.”
Do Bulgaria and Romania really need and want more bridges then if, after so many discussions, the two countries are moving only now to study the feasibility of bridge connections? If you ask the drivers stuck in long queues on both sides of the two bridges, with only two counters servicing them at a time, there’s nothing to discuss. Bring those bridges. Now.