PM Borissov, EC President Juncker Discuss Priorities of Bulgarian EU Presidency

Sofia, January 12 (BTA) - Speaking at a joint news conference with European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker Friday after a meeting of the members of the EC and the Bulgarian government, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that this country will have a firm position in favour of cohesion funds. "We are certain that for the Balkans, for the newly admitted member states and for those who joined the EU shortly before Bulgaria, the cohesion funds are of vital importance," Borissov said.

The main topics of the news conference were the Western Balkans, the EU's common defence and security, the digital economy, the migrant crisis, and Bulgaria's future membership in the Schengen area and the Eurozone.

Regarding the Western Balkans, Borissov expressed his deep certainty that "the most risk-free perspective for the EU to provide to the region now is through the opportunity for creating connecting infrastructure". This, in Borissov's opinion, will open an opportunity for higher competitiveness, investments, tourism, and closer ties in culture.

Juncker said that the Western Balkans are very close to each other "but we want to make them close to Europe as well". The EC President voiced satisfaction that the Bulgarian EU Presidency put the spotlight on the Western Balkans. He recalled that no new applicant countries will be possible to admit to the EU before January 1, 2020 because the preparation has not advanced enough, but said that there will be more work on the topic in the mandate of the next Commission. Juncker stressed that giving the Western Balkans a clear European perspective is important and that it should be reiterated.

Regarding the Eurozone, Juncker said that Bulgaria has made genuine progress in bringing its economy closer to those of the Eurozone countries but has still some work to do. "I am sure that Bulgaria will, or should, join the ERM-2 as rapidly as possible," Juncker said.

Juncker praised Bulgaria's strong public finances and said all countries that meet the criteria should be able to adopt the euro.

The EC President said that Friday's meeting discussed the topic of gas supplies to the region. He said that gas supplies should be connective, and not divisive, and that in this respect the EC and the Bulgarian government are heading in the same direction. He showed Borissov a map of the Balkan gas hub project.

Borissov said that when discussing the gas hub, the talks are not about transiting gas but about genuine diversification, about complying with the requirements of the Third Energy Package and "opening an opportunity whereby Bulgaria could return to the place it used to occupy".

Both Turkey and Russia are large neighbour of the EU, said Borissov, adding that an attempt should be made to normalize relations. "This is a subject for the EU Council, for all of my colleagues" and Bulgaria will support those decisions, he said.

Juncker noted that improving connectivitiy with the Western Balkans and with Turkey were of prime importance to the Commission.

Asked to comment on Turkey's wish to be back on Europe's agenda, Juncker said relations with Turkey are very important but there is nothing he can add to his position. Turkey has its European ambitions and it remains to be seen what progress it will make in the coming months, said Juncker. However, he ruled out talking of progress while there were journalists in Turkish prisons.

Borissov stressed that implementing the migrant deal with Turkey is extremely important for Europe. The consequences of migrant pressure are shaking many countries in Europe even now. "We will seek a way to improve the EU's relations with Turkey, which is its largest neighbour. We cannot invite Turkey to the [European leaders'] Summit [with the countries of the Western Balkans] in May because this will shift the accent of the talks," said Borissov.

Juncker and Borissov underlined the important role Germany plays in the EU and the need to form a stable government in Berlin. "Germany is one of the motors of the EU," Borissov said. "I fully rely on Chancellor Merkel to help us with the programmes linked to the Western Balkans," he said, adding that he knew very well that Germany is not against Bulgaria's entry in the Schengen area.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands arrives in Bulgaria on February 6-7, said Borissov. "I will take him to the border with Turkey so he can see that we guard the EU border best. The same applies to Bulgaria's entry in the Eurozone - we meet all the criteria and are one of the EU star pupils in terms of financial discipline."

Answering a question, Juncker said he did not think the Brexit negotiations could affect the accession of the Western Balkans. He said that the next European Commission (2019-2024) would work to shift public opinion in that direction.

The claim that Bulgaria is the most corrupt EU country oversimplifies things, Juncker said, taking a question. It should be said the Bulgarian government is fighting corruption successfully and will find a solution to this problem, he added.

He said he had been in favour of Bulgaria's entry in Schengen from the very beginning. Bulgaria meets all conditions for this, although there are several governments which disagree despite the reality, said Juncker.

Source: Sofia