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A new bridge over the Danube

The bridge between Vidin, Bulgaria and Calafat, Romania should open up one of Europe's poorest regions.

Stalev said the bridge could funnel Bulgarian wine north and attract investment from Czech and Slovak automakers seeking low-cost Bulgarian workers to produce auto parts. It will also give Romanians better access to Greece, Serbians an easier route to Russia — Belgrade’s ally — and western Europe a straight shot to Turkey.

Local and European Union officials became convinced of the bridge’s necessity during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, when hostilities blocked Serbian highways, cutting the eastern Balkans off from western Europe.

Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are the size of Tennessee, Oregon and South Carolina, respectively, but their economies were not integrated during the communist era. Yugoslavia was never part of the Soviet Bloc. Romania pursued pseudo-independent diplomacy. Bulgaria maintained close ties with Moscow. Those legacies are only now fading, even after Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007.