Bulgarian Ambassador to Georgia on Bulgaria’s Ascension to the EU Presidency

This January saw the commencement of the first Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union, the official opening ceremony for which took place on January 11 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

“On January 1, we took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union,” said President Rumen Radev at the official opening ceremony in Sofia. “For 11 years, we have been a member of the Union, but for 13 centuries, Bulgaria has been the South-Eastern gate of the continent. This is an historical experience we have paid a high price for. We in the Balkans know very well that division breeds tragedy. Europe is too big to be monolithic and too small to be divided, and this is why the slogan of our Presidency is ‘United, We Stand Strong.’

Clear in his message was the belief that realism and solidarity are key to solving universal problems. “Europe is not just an economic space, but a space of freedom, deeply rooted in history, culture and humanism, and we should not turn our backs on this,” the Bulgarian President concluded.

“We have to be an impartial moderator in negotiations, but, at the same time, do our best so that each Bulgarian feels the EU is there for him,” said the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, Boyko Borissov.

The President of the Council of the European Union, Donald Tusk, expressed his high appreciation for Bulgaria’s focus on the future of the Western Balkans, and added that stability, security and prosperity are what the people of the region deserve. According to him, the EU's purpose is to help make this dream a reality.

Bulgaria, according to its President, is a country in which cohesion funds are bringing about visible change and contributing to a year-on-year economic growth of 3.8%. It is a country which is protecting the EU's external border as responsibly as any Schengen Area member, without, in fact, being part of Schengen. It is a country whose currency, the Lev, has been governed by the same rules as the Euro for decades, and whose macroeconomic indicators are impeccable, even though it is not part of the Eurozone. Finally, it is a country where different religions and ethnicities live together in peace.

“The Bulgarian voice will be heard loudly and prominently in Europe,” said President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, going on to highlight that the Bulgarian Presidency is taking place at a crucial moment when the European Union must deliver on a number of initiatives for its citizens and shape the Union's future.

GEORGIA TODAY met with Ambassador of Bulgaria to Georgia, Dessislava Ivanova, to find out more about Bulgaria’s aspirations and expectations in the months ahead.

“The Presidency is a chance for us to show a different side of Bulgaria,” she said, after affirming that the top job on the agenda is just what Juncker highlighted (above). “We hope that over the next six months, all our European and non-European partners and friends will get to know more of the multiple faces of Bulgaria: the ‘good student,’ the ‘strong economic performer,’ the ‘model for ethnic tolerance,’ and will have the chance to develop a fuller understanding of Bulgaria, and even come to love it.”

The three pillars of the Bulgarian Presidency Program are stability, security and solidarity. The Ambassador told us that they plan to achieve these goals by implementing three key principles: consensus, competitiveness, and cohesion, working on four main strands:

o The European perspective of the Western Balkans,

o Security and stability for a stronger and united Europe,

o The digital economy and skills of the future,

o Economic growth, social cohesion and youth.

“For Bulgaria, as a Balkan country, the future of the Western Balkans is naturally very important, but this should be important not only for us. Over the past decade, Europe has been hit by consecutive crises. This has meant that we have been focused on solving our own problems rather than reaching out to those around us. As a result, many of our partners, and especially those in the Western Balkans, have lost hope that their European perspective is realistic. Some have even started looking for growth and development opportunities elsewhere,” the Ambassador told us. “Now the European economy is back on track, this is a chance for us to look to our partners in the Western Balkans and to reassure them that their European perspective is realistic.”

She then emphasized the need for Europe to be united. “With one of our Member States about to leave the EU, and global challenges of increasing frequency and scope, our only chance of moving forward depends on our playing together as a team. We know this team also has a few ‘reserve members.’ Why not start training with them now, so that they can be an effective part of the A-team once they join the game? To that end, we are organizing a summit between the EU leaders and the leaders of the Western Balkan countries in Sofia on 17 May 2018.

“Bulgaria joined the EU only a decade ago and we have very recent memories of what being a candidate country feels like. We therefore believe that we can be a bridge between the Western Balkans, and of course, the Black Sea region and the EU; a bridge that goes both ways: bringing the EU’s messages to the Western Balkans and the Black Sea region and vice-versa.”

She went on to discuss Bulgaria’s other priorities: security and stability, digital economy and skills of the future, and economic growth, social cohesion and youth.

“The focus of our work in the area of security will be reform of the Common European Asylum System based on the principals of responsibility and true solidarity.”

Within this, she said, comes strengthening border control “for more efficient management of the migration processes, for interoperability of the information systems, and for practical application of the Permanent Structured Cooperation ‘PESCO’.”

“Our aim is to improve the security of EU citizens,” she told us.

Of the digital economy, she noted the need to adapt to the new realities. “Research data show that in certain aspects, Europe is still lagging behind its competitors. This is why we must, without further delay, complete the work on the Digital Single Market as a source for growth and competitiveness in Europe,” the Ambassador said.

“We also want to make sure that our educational systems are good enough to provide young people with the skills that the labor market of tomorrow demands. For this, we will look into the future of the Erasmus+ program, discuss how to modernize European education, and make sure that we are providing an environment conducive to lifelong learning.”

To boost economic growth, the Bulgarian Presidency plans to work towards strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union. “We will prepare the debate on the next multi-annual Financial Framework, gather ideas about the future Cohesion Policy post-2020, and steer the debate on how to modernize and simplify the Common Agricultural Policy /CAP/ after 2020,” she said.

“Globally, even the biggest EU Member States are too small to stand up to the competition of major economies. However, when taken together, the EU's 28 Member States form the biggest economy in the world. This is clear proof that only united can we do more and do it better.”

We asked her of the burdens of the Presidency and how Bulgaria sees itself in this role.

“As rotating President of the Council of the European Union, we are aware of the big responsibility and expectations towards us. We will be a fair moderator and work on finding common solutions in response to the expectations of Europe and its citizens for more security, stability and solidarity. Our aim will be to create a strong, digital and united Europe through consensus, competitiveness and cohesion. We will seek to strike a balance between the specific priorities of the member states and the strategic priorities of the EU with the aim to achieve real, visible results in active dialogue with the citizens and in response to their expectations. The slogan of the Bulgarian Presidency, ‘United, We Stand Strong,’ is not only connected with our country’s history and statehood, but also, as a follow-up to the Rome Declaration, it highlights the idea of a Europe based on unity and solidarity. Because only united can we stand strong.”

Katie Ruth Davies

01 February 2018 19:35