President Rumen Radev has softened the tone of his stance to the government of Boyko Borissov and for the first time praised the “successes” of the Bulgarian presidency of the Council of the EU. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Radev commented that Bulgaria had succeeded to steer Europe’s agenda in the last six months. He said the government had prepared the right priorities for the EU and had thus returned the focus on the Western Balkans.
The President spoke to the participants to the Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (Plenary COSAC), on 18 June.
“The Bulgarian government showed character by taking on this very difficult topic. But someone had to do this. The Bulgarian government has shown persistence by bringing back the subject of the Western Balkans in a very destructive environment “, he said, mentioning international developments such as US walkout from the Iranian nuclear deal, the trade wars, the mobility package opposing Eastern and Western Europe in the EU.
The president warned that “if the EU does not give the European perspective to the Western Balkans, they [The Western Balkans] will give Europe a Balkan perspective”.
“The region is very fragile, there are no guarantees of success, but someone had to take responsibility and call the problems by their names, start discussions and take action”, said Radev, who commented that some of the successes were adequate to the Bulgarian Presidency motto – “United we stand strong”.
“The key to our success is that we have highlighted unity as a decisive factor in making effective decisions”, the president said. He pointed out that the biggest challenge is what course of action the EU would take from now on. A few days ago, Austria announced it would keep the focus on the Western Balkans during its presidency. However, Austria has its own agenda, to seek solutions to the refugee crisis with some of the Western Balkan countries, outside the EU framework.
Only a month ago Radev gave a completely different assessment to the Bulgarian presidency. In an interview with the state news agency BTA, he criticized the government’s achievements and stated that the government was using the presidency to make its political public relation stunts. Radev also said on this occasion that Bulgaria’s results with the Western Balkans were controversial.
Radev could reproach Borissov not having involved him in the major events of the Presidency. His appearance at the COSAC Plenary was the only time he was invited to join a Presidency event, except on the day of its inauguration. Borissov certainly sees Radev as a political rival, actually the only one who was able to beat the GERB candidate at national elections for more than 10 years.
Borissov: We succeeded with the name of Macedonia
Now the conflict between Radev and Borissov seems to have disappeared. At the same event, the prime minister also spoke about the successes of the Bulgarian presidency, focusing on the agreement between Athens and Skopje on the new name of Macedonia. He reminded that the Prime Ministers of the two countries, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, achieved a breakthrough during their meeting in Sofia last May, on the occasion of the Western Balkans summit. Borissov said Bulgaria and Macedonia have given the good example by signing a bilateral neighborhood agreement in August 2017.
“We expect the same from Kosovo and Serbia”, Borissov said.
He made the evaluation that the integration of the Balkans would practically cost nothing to the EU.
“It costs nothing, we calculated it: with highways, railways, ports, digital infrastructure, it will cost for the next 10-15 years no more than 32-33 billion euros, and they say the war in Kosovo, Sarajevo, Mostar has cost us over 50 billion”.
The Prime Minister also highlighted the migration crisis. He once again expressed his idea of closing all European external borders and channeling the flow of refugees through specially created points. Borissov appealed that most migrants be returned to their native places, especially those who cannot be integrated into European societies.
“Why should Europe be like a yard without a fence? This is a major mistake, for countries to be divided [to try to protect their borders] within Europe. If the requirements are not met, all [migrants] have to go back where they came from”, said Borissov.
The Bulgarian Presidency has not been successful in its attempt to reach a consensus on the issue of migrant resettlement. Sofia has made a lot of efforts in this direction, but last May Budapest accused the Bulgarian diplomacy of trying to satisfy Germany’s interests. The 28-29 EU summit a consensus will be sought by Council President Donald Tusk.