BELGRADE, July 25 (Xinhua) -- Bulgaria will support European integration of Serbia and the region of Western Balkans during its presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ekatarina Zaharieva told Serbian officials here on Tuesday.
Zaharieva started her regional tour in Belgrade as part of the preparations of her country to take over the Council presidency from Estonia in January 2018, and met here Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic as well as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Zaharieva told her counterpart, Dacic, that Bulgaria is ready to share its experiences from negotiations with the European Union, and provide expert assistance, especially for chapters 23 and 24 that relate to judiciary and justice.
According to officials, Dacic and Zaharieva agreed to settle any possible disputes between the two countries in direct negotiations, and not with mediation of the European Union, and to engage jointly in order to boost economic development of the Serbia's border zone with Bulgaria.
Dacic repeated that the membership in the EU remains to be Serbia's strategic goal, and that it plans to open as many accession chapters as possible during the Bulgarian presidency.
He reminded that the economic exchange between the two countries is worth around 800 million euros (932 U.S. dollars), and that the two sides work on joint projects such as the highway and railway connection.
He stressed the importance of the gas pipeline that will connect the two countries, as from January 2019 Serbia will no longer obtain gas supply from Russia across Ukraine, the pipeline of which will be closed.
Brnabic thanked Zaharijeva for consistent support of Bulgaria in European integration, and said that the country's focus in future will be to fulfil standards and implement reforms, as well as to modernize the country further.
On Monday Zaharaijeva also met Vucic and talked about bilateral, political and economic relations, and the two agreed that the two countries need to sign a new Memorandum on the cooperation in the area of integration, as well as to advance relations in areas of trade, tourism, energy and transport infrastructure.