European Western Balkans

DW: Bulgaria to strongly push for the Western Balkans, but …

Plenary session Week 27 2017 in Strasbourg - EP building and Flags

BERLIN – Bulgaria is due to take over the EU presidency in January, although it is still under the special monitoring of the rule of law, according to Deutsche Welle (DW), explaining that Sofia’s insisting on the Western Balkans will be the smallest challenge for Bulgaria.

It is stated that the EU Presidency for Bulgaria is no doubt a great challenge. Brexit negotiations, discussions on a common refugee and migrant policy, preparing a financial framework for the period from 2020 – are just three difficult tasks.

DW states that Sofia has tried to find “its” theme that will be highlighted during the six-month EU presidency – the European future of the Western Balkans where Bulgaria could be a valuable mediator. Bulgaria even planned to hold an EU summit on May 17, 2018.

“Bulgaria will strongly support the Western Balkans and the enlargement and integration policy, for which it has good preconditions through its bilateral relations in the region,” said DW German Social Democrats Gernot Erler, former State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and President of the German-Bulgarian forum.

However, German international radio reports that former European Parliament President Hans-Gert Petteri, unofficially the chief adviser of the Bulgarian government over its EU presidency, is cautious.

In his opinion, the message should be: “You can not quickly become members, you have to reform, you have to suppress corruption and establish the rule of law. In turn, in some areas, such as reducing roaming or digitizing, you may be treated as other EU countries.”

It is reported that Minister Liljana Pavlova, who is in charge of the Bulgarian EU Presidency, presented the program in both the Bulgarian and the European Parliament. In addition to the European perspective for the Western Balkans, Pavlova has focused on the future of young people, which is directly linked to the future budget for 2020 and Brexit, security and stability, with regard to refugees and migration, then a common European defence and economic growth, as well as a unique European digital market.

DW states that the priorities that were set up significantly changed.

There are several reasons for that. The Bulgarian government changed initially outlined goals after consultation with the EU institutions. It is said that in the meantime, Sofia understood that during the presidency, they will have the role of coordinating other than leading, and that big problem like Brexit and refugees will be solved by Bulgaria’ mediation, not under its leadership.

According to the DW analysis, when it comes to migration, Sofia will try to eliminate differences between estern and eastern Europe and seek consensus before Austria takes over in July 2018, because of Vienna advocates for a much stricter migrant policy.

For Johanna Deimel of the South East Europe association in Munich, the fact that a country still under EU monitoring takes over its presidency is a “new one.”

“It is a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary, undermining the independence of judges, and even against constitutional laws,” Deimel said.

She added that having all this in mind, “Bulgaria cannot be a role model.”

“If there are such elementary deficiencies, then how can the countries of the Western Balkans be motivated to conduct reforms in the field of justice and rule of law, to fight corruption and organized crime?” asked Deimel.

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