by Ani Ivanova; photography by Dragomir Ushev

Is it too late for Bulgaria to avoid the Spanish tourist industry's pitfalls? No, says Norwegian Per Svensson, overdevelopment may still be avoided

Per Svensson

A Norwegian who has spent most of the past 40 years in Spain, but has nevertheless been appointed a knight by the King of Norway, Per Svensson is the secretary of the national association of foreigners in Spain, Ciudádanos Europeos, or European Citizens. The association was formed in 1992 following decisions in the Maastricht agreement to foment European Citizenship and works on a non-profit basis to protect the interests of European citizens in Spain.

“I have been active in the foreigners' community because I believe we must integrate into Spanish life,” Svensson says. In addition to maintaining his own web blog,, he is a major contributor to the association's website,, where you can read some witty observations on golf course developments and those “meetings of walls” along the Spanish coast. Visiting Bulgaria for a week, Svensson toured most of the mountain resorts, and said the local tourist industry might be able to avoid some of the mistakes made in Spain. In his opinion, developers could soon be reaching their limits in Bansko, and should sit down and rethink the situation. And they were not the only ones who ought to do that.

How do you view the recent property boom in Bulgaria?

Having foreign investors coming to Bulgaria is a very good thing, basically. The tourist industry and selling property to foreigners is a great incentive for the local and national economy, as Spain's experience indicates. Therefore, you must not do anything to deter foreigners. However, I think you would be very wise to draw some lines, make some restrictions, and tell them what they are permitted and not permitted to do, and then keep those boundaries. If you do not stop them or show them the limits from the beginning, you have lost the battle.

Has Spain lost this battle?

The construction business is probably the most powerful economic machine in Spain and today they do what they like. For instance, the building lobby took power over the municipality of Marbella and built 30,000 illegal dwellings. Two of the local mayors are now in prison, the third has died, otherwise he would also be in prison. They had amassed enormous quantities of money through corruption, but will spend a good part of their lives in prison. It would have been wiser, however, if the Spanish government had stopped them at the beginning rather than use the courts to act against them. In another example, in one municipality on the Costa Blanca, it has come to light that 1,200 illegal villas were built on farm land without any planning permission. The government has now intervened and taken away the powers of urban planning for that municipality. In addition, the foreigners who have bought the land and built their villas there stand to lose their lifetime's savings. Incidents like this are very bad publicity for Spain, and put off many new buyers. It would be wise for Bulgaria to keep this in mind.

How can Bulgaria minimise the risks?

You have to have laws, the mechanism of control. People in Bulgaria must be determined to intervene from the beginning against property developers and local administration when they allow illegal practices by developers, and channel their economic energy into legal activities. You can learn from the experiences of other countries, and you shouldn't be afraid. In Spain, it started with us, foreigners, because we are accustomed to protesting whenever we disapprove of something.

Did the government listen?

I'll give you one of the most important examples: last year we collected 30,000 signatures against a law in the region of Valencia allowing big promoters to go into an expropriated property belonging to small, local landowners. We took this to the Spanish government; they didn't pay attention. So we took it to the European Parliament, and the European Parliament listened, taking it very seriously and sending in two investigating commissions. The issue was debated in the European Parliament, and a resolution against that law was adopted with 550 votes in favour, 45 against and 25 abstentions. If the regional government in Valencia does not change its attitude, it will be taken to the European Court in Strasbourg. So it is possible to change things, and Europe can play a very positive role.

Is the construction business a long-term endeavour?

For property developers, it is a short-term business, they want to make their money as fast as possible and move out. The problem for Bulgaria, as it has been in Spain, is that many of the property developers are foreigners. It is much easier for foreigners to pack their suitcases and leave when something starts to go wrong than it is for the nationals. So maybe you need to stimulate the locals to do things and not leave so much to foreigners. The construction business is not continuous, it does not last forever, because good land for such purposes is limited. You should take care of the land you have and plan well for the future.


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Six months after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the world into lockdowns and uncertainties, a fuller picture of its effect on the world economy is beginning to emerge. Bulgaria fared not too bad, according to recent statistical data.

Nowhere is the abyss between what Boyko Borisov's GERB says it is doing and what it in fact does so obvious than in the economy of what firmly remains the EU's poorest state.

From bad to worse? According to a poll by Alpha Research published at the end of 2011, the majority of Bulgarians consider 2011 to have been "the worst" since the economic collapse of 1997.

In the third quarter of 2010 the average monthly income of an adult member of a family in Bulgaria decreased by 2.2 percent on a year earlier. At the moment it is 932 leva, or 466 euros, according to the National Statistical Institute.

The crisis was already a fact in Bulgaria at the beginning of 2009, but the owner of an accountancy firm in Gorna Oryahovitsa would deny it even more vehemently than then Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev.
Rays of hope have started to peep through the cloud-covered economic horizon – even in the new EU member states. Poland has managed to avoid going into recession.

At first, they stopped buying. Then it got worse - they started selling. Yes, it seems the British have deserted the Bulgarian property market and the Bulgarians are taking it very personally.
"The Bulgarian economy is stable." The words former Finance Minister Plamen Oresharski uttered in October 2008 seem more than just a little out of place a year later.

While last autumn the prevailing opinion of people in this country was that the economic crisis did not have a direct effect on them, their view is now completely different.

The commercial real estate market in Bulgaria is at a crossroads.
The "monster munch," as Londoners call the current credit crunch, in my view is running out steam. Everyone is growing tired of the pundits.
According to a saying very popular among Bulgarians in the past, "In his life, a man must do three things: raise a child, plant a tree and build a house for his family." Nowadays this way of thinking no longer reflects the urban lifestyle – the current rati