Three months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU have elapsed, three more remain. Georgi Gotev, publisher of this website, assesses the state of play. The author authorises other media to quote or republish this article, provided the source BulgarianPresidency.eu is mentioned.
Each presidency is confronted by international events beyond its control. Given the geographic position of Bulgaria, the biggest challenge are the growing tensions with Russia, against the background of the Skripal case. Another challenge is the destabilising potential of Turkey’s military excursions abroad against the Kurds.
With his EU counterparts, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has made efforts toward appeasement with these two major geopolitical players. He has strongly lobbied and obtained a ‘Leaders’ meeting’ with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and has warned British PM Theresa May against overreacting in Skripal’s case.
Undoubtedly, Borissov is Erdogan’s preferred interlocutor in the EU, if not his Trojan horse. Borissov doesn’t hide that he fears if Turkey would change policy and release the three million of migrants on its territory to Europe, via Bulgaria’s border. It is very likely that a second Varna summit will take place before the end of the Bulgarian Presidency.
Borissov would like to have a similar relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he will not succeed, because Moscow consistently treats Bulgaria with disdain, as an unfaithful former wife. At the last EU summit (22-23 March), Borissov made it clear his country would not expel Russian diplomats. However, when he returned to Sofia, Bulgaria recalled its ambassador in Moscow “for consultations”.
Thus, Borissov lost his comparative advantage vis-à-vis his EU counterparts, the vast majority of which took punitive measures against Russia despite the uncertainties of the Skripal case. Without any doubt, Western pressure was put on Borissov, because among his allies, he is not trusted to become a privileged interlocutor to Putin, in the same way that he was allowed to be Erdogan’s pal.
In term of blunders during first three months of the Bulgarian Presidency the winner is Deputy Prime Minister Valery Simeonov. This is the price of the cumbersome coalition partnership with the “United Patriots”. Simeonov first made extremely offensive and even threatening comments against the co-president of the Green political group in the European Parliament Ska Keller, who came to Bulgaria to support protesters against a plan to develop business tourism in a protected park.
This prompted the leaders of the European institutions to react, but triggered no reaction from Borissov.
Secondly, Simeonov called the Russian patriarch Kirill a “cigarette billionaire” and a “second-class KGB cop”, which was hardly helpful for Borissov, who seeks to advance energy projects with Russia, including bringing the second pipe of Turkish Stream to the Bulgarian port city of Varna.
Bulgaria’s Presidency image was tarnished by the exposure of another representative of the “United Patriots”, the minister of ecology Neno Dimov as climate change denier.
Last but not least, the opposition to the Istanbul Convention from conservative strata of the Bulgarian society, including the United Patriots and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, didn’t contribute to good image of a country in the EU driver’s seat.
The Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, is no longer on the legislative program of the Bulgarian Parliament.