When this website asked Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker what are the geopolitical risks for the upcoming Bulgarian EU Presidency, Borissov said he had put the very same question to Juncker, but apparently obtained no answer.
Borissov was in Brussels on Wednesday (8 November) with the entire Bulgarian government for the traditional meeting the upcoming presidencies hold with the EU executive ahead of their stint.
The question was largely prompted by the opening remarks Borissov himself made to the press, saying he wanted to know who were the potential adversaries “if we are talking about war”.
“I am a big champion of making a very big audit in the area of defence for the existing military equipment, whether it is sufficient in contemporary conditions, how it is dislocated, what are the potential adversaries, where the first defence lines should be located, if we are talking about war or about preparation for war, after we will need to spend so many billions, tens, hundreds of billions for the whole of Europe on behalf of NATO, let’s have a clearer position where and how this will be dislocated,” Borissov said.
He continued: “Not speaking about industrial cooperation and the possibilities, including for Bulgaria to produce such [military] equipment, for cooperation with other European countries, and in this manner, to preserve jobs and competitiveness.”
The Bulgarian prime minister added that by debating these matters, public money could be spent more efficiently.
I asked Borissov and Juncker what they thought were the geopolitical risks during the Bulgarian Presidency.
In his usual off-the-cuff style, Juncker answered: “There is no risk because the Bulgarian government is very resilient.”
Borissov first declined to answer but yours faithfully asked him to explain what he meant when he mentioned ‘war’, to which Borissov replied:
“If all countries say that we should spend more on defence, this means there is a threat. And if we are going to spend more on defence, this means someone will attack us. This is what I asked the European Commission today.
“To tell us where the threats are coming from. Here, Jean-Claude Juncker can confirm. [I asked] from which countries will come the threat, so that we strengthen the respective borders, so that we redeploy army, artillery, missiles, airplanes: from where the attack will come? And not to spend mountains of money… and not know for what purpose.”
He went on to say that the majority of EU countries are in NATO so for individual countries it did not matter if the money went to NATO or to European defence, as it was taken from the same pockets.
Juncker said he would add one remark. “Bulgaria is located in an ultra-complicated area of Europe. But today’s Bulgaria is not a country consuming stability, but providing stability. I would like all countries from the region to do the same.”
On 24 October, Bulgaria announced it would join PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence, as outlined in the Treaty of the EU.
Bulgarian media paid little attention but the decision is significant. Bulgaria joins those who want to see the EU moving forward and becoming a stronger global player.
On 7 September EU defence ministers hosted by the Estonian Presidency in Tallinn were in broad agreement on how to move forward, paving the way for a legal decision launching PESCO possibly by the end of the year.
On this occasion, it was decided that by mid-October, member states would present to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini “the basis for a common notification of interest of member states” to participate in PESCO.
The EU will adopt a formal legal decision, to be negotiated within the following three months. As Mogherini said in Tallinn, PESCO could be launched by the end of December.
This would allow a group of willing member states to launch Permanent Structured Cooperation in the field of defence, on a voluntary basis and established through the Council.
Reaching an agreement on a complete transfer of competences in the field of defence policy to EU level will be rather difficult, given the existing NATO framework.
Instead, under PESCO the focus is on the expansion of cooperation in terms of individual projects. Armament projects, which are interesting for several member states, are going to be launched jointly by them. They then will be considered as EU projects, even if not all member states are involved.
Bulgaria is one of the poorest EU countries but has significant potential in the industry of armament.
The Bulgarian Presidency faces geopolitical challenges, but also internal risks.