Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told journalists today (23 February) ahead of the informal EU summit at 27, that the leaders’ summit with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he will host on 26 March in the Bulgarian city of Varna will be extremely difficult.
Borissov, who is one of the longest-serving prime ministers, attends the firs summit since his country took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. One of the issues to be raised by Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades is the blockade by Turkish ships of offshore gas exploration in the territorial waters of the Republic of Cyprus.
As I asked him to comment on this issue, Borissov said Anastasiades spoke to him and voiced his concerns.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet European Council chief Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a “leaders’ meeting” hosted by Borissov in the Bulgarian Black Sea city of Varna on 26 March. The meeting was arranged as a result of heavy lobbying by Borissov, who counts on Turkey to implement its deal with the EU to prevent migrants from crossing to the Greek islands from Turkish territory.
Turkey has a large shopping list, including more money for the migrant deal, the lifting of the visa requirement and progress in its EU accession talks.
I asked what he was going to do about the Cypriot concerns on the occasion of the Varna summit. Borissov said:
“If anybody imagines that it’s only a pleasant task to host Juncker, Tusk and Erdogan for dinner, he is probably a newcomer to politics or has no clue. This is an extremely difficult meeting, extremely loaded with expectations and with tensions. To the extent that I know the President Erdogan and our leaders, and also knowing myself, I’m far form imagining that we would find agreement on the questions raised, on all of them or on part of them. This is going to be a very heavy experience for all of us, and it is not by chance that since yesterday [when he arrived in Brussels] everybody is asking me how are you going to handle this. This is not a dinner between friends who have gathered just to chat and drink sherbet [syrup]. And this is not something just anyone can organise these days.”
I asked if he felt differently at this first EU summit since Bulgaria is holding the EU Presidency. The Prime Minister said:
“No, in the last one or two years I enjoy the respect of my colleagues, they pay attention to what I say, but I don’t want to brag about it, I’m not such a person. But the fact is thta many were not present at yesterday’s dinner, not even Tusk, and I wasn’t invited because of the Presidency, but as a person from the region who takes into account the positions of all, which can lead to reasonable solutions.”
Borissov was referring to a dinner in which the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel invited yesterday the leaders of countries from different parts of Europe and from different political families. The gathering reportedly offered the leaders an opportunity to start “more direct” discussions than during the normal European summits. Some of the themes that have been discussed are trade, energy transition, defense, migration, the place of Europe in the world and the EU budget after the Brexit.
The participants were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and a number of Prime ministers: Mateusz Morawiecki (Poalnd) , Mariano Rajoy (Spain), Leo Varadkar (Ireland), Paolo Gentiloni (Italy), Juha Sipilä (Finland), Xavier Bettel (Luxembourg), Antonio Costa (Portugal), Robert Fico (Slovakia) and Borissov himself.
Borissov said this was a “regional leadership” meeting and that he had spoken at length about everything in the region “ranging from Greece trough Macedonia, from Serbia to Kosovo, Turkey Russia, the dispute between Slovenia and Croatia (about the Piran Bay border delimtation).
He also announced that this morning Macron, Michel and Bettel had proposed him to host a francophone meeting in Varna, adding that he gladly accepted to host such an event.
Bulgaria is officially member of the organisation of the International Organisation of La Francophonie. I asked how many ministers in his cabinet speak French, but Borissov pretended he had not heard the question.