Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov today introduced the priorities and programme of the Bulgarian EU presidency, which will last between January and June 2018. He focused especially on the issues of migration and the EU enlargement agenda, but made no reference to Brexit in his speech to the European Parliament.
‘United we stand strong’
In his remarks, Borissov called Europe one of the best places to live in the world, and also that the motto of the Bulgarian National Assembly, ‘united we stand strong’, was the most suitable European motto currently. He thanked European countries for the funding and investment through which they contributed to the economies of Bulgaria and other eastern European countries.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker recalled the emotion he felt at Europe’s history and geography reconciling when he signed Bulgarian’s accession treaty. He said that “the hope and joy we felt on that day must never fade away”. He also reiterated that Bulgaria would be able to join the eurozone in the “foreseeable future.
Bulgaria to work towards migration reform
Migration features as one of the main priorities of the Bulgarian presidency.
“I dare say that Bulgaria managed within a year to reduce the migratory pressures to zero. This was achieved because we worked very hard and at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, we showed how we can cope together.”
He thanked the Commission for the financial aid it received and also for the EU-Turkey statement, which Borissov said needed to continue to be applied, especially as millions of migrants are in Turkey. However, he added that “we need to act with resolve, of course, as far as the independence of the Turkish media is concerned.”
On the reform of the Dublin agreement and especially the divisive issue of refugee relocation, Borissov said “we’ll try by using all diplomatic tools to solve this problem.”
“The ones that will be admitted to the territory of Europe need to be sent to those places that will want to have them.”
Supporting the accession of the Western Balkans
The Bulgarian presidency has made the European integration of the Western Balkans a priority as well. Borrisov noted the Commission’s pledge that there would be no enlargement before the end of the Commission’s mandate next year, but said that the countries needed to be told in a frank and open way what would happen to them.
The Bulgarian PM presented a geopolitical argument in favour of the accession process, stating that “if we don’t help them, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries will help them.”
He said that in part the security of Europe depends on the security of the Western Balkans. If those countries are not safeguarded, there could be an influx of terrorists and radical Islam in the EU, especially considering the majority Muslim populations in the region.
“The Balkans are a very fragile constriction, and if it starts shaking, the whole region, the whole of Europe will start shaking.”
Juncker again made clear that border issues between countries must be solved before accession, and that without the rule of law, countries can’t accede to the EU.
He also mentioned that EU member states equally have to be committed to the rule of law, referring to the dispute between the EU and Poland, but said that “the EU is not at war with Poland” and that he and the Polish Prime Minister made “a considerable effort to unite our opinions”.
EU external relations
Borrisov mentioned that member states were divided on the issue of sanctions, but also that he wanted to attempt to normalise relations with Russia, even if he admitted that it was “not within the scope of what we can achieve.” He said he would seek the support of other European countries to do so.
He also criticised aspects of Europe’s foreign policy, saying that “we react to threats instead of anticipating them” and also that “We leave it to other major players such as Turkey, Iran and Russia to take decisions on subjects that have huge implications for Europe.”
Borissov had little to say on the matter of Brexit, but Jean-Claude again repeated that both sides would lose. He also said that the EU was not throwing the UK out. “We would like the British to stay, and if they so wish, they should be allowed to do so.”
He said the Commission would be happy to facilitate the UK rejoining the EU through Article 49 after Brexit had occurred.
Image source, © European Union 2018 – Source : EP, Daina Le Lardic