EU Defence Ministers Hold Informal Meeting in Sofia

Sofia, May 5 (BTA) - An Informal Meeting of EU Member States' Ministers of Defence took place in Sofia on Friday and Saturday.

"The purpose of what we are doing in the Western Balkans is peace. To have peace, however, we need to have strong armed forces and to integrate the Western Balkan countries," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in his opening remarks at the informal meeting roundtable.

He pointed out that Bulgaria is actively modernizing its armed forces and enhancing their capabilities and has clear prorgammes and budget financing for the projects for a new fighter, land-forces equipment and ships in the coming years.

Recalling the peace-keeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo, to which Bulgaria is contributing, Borissov said that these challenges call for managing and identifying the intensity and duration of potential risks in the Balkans.

The PM described common European defence and the funds and efforts put in it as "a positive but insufficient step". He pointed to the need of separate Member States pooling their resources. "Two per cent of GDP is a lot of money and, on an annual basis, it will add up to trillions that all countries have to spend from their budgets on armaments. I don't think that each country should have a 'shopping list' of its own. The colleagues of NATO, as well as the colleagues of PESCO [Permanent Structured Cooperation], can make a far more accurate estimate of what each Member State should prioritize. We are on the Black Sea, Bulgaria and Greece are at the southern [external] border, a priority should be identified for each country, each country should be assigned particular products to manufacture, so as to be able to keep its defence potential, the scientists and engineers who work in its defence industry," the Bulgarian head of government said.

Borissov reiterated the importance of efforts to normalize relations with Turkey. "Bulgaria has always talked about freedom of speech and about the problems in Turkey. At the same time, this is the most powerful military machine on NATO's southern flank. That is why I'd like to ask you - with all due respect for politics and the public rhetoric we use to please our voters - but I want to be certain that NATO's southern flank is fully protected because this is where Bulgaria is located," he noted.

"The EU-Western Balkans Summit will be a very important event," European Commission Vice-President and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said, replying to a question at a joint news conference with Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov after the informal meeting. "It's first and foremost a political sign that the EU and its Western Balkan partners share not only the same geographical space but also political objectives and the same destiny," she added. "It's not going to be an enlargement summit but, still, the fact that the entire region is Europe and has the European perspective will be one of the underlying elements of this summit. It is not just in the interest of the Western Balkan countries but of all of the EU to make this work with them credible and having a credible European perspective for the entire region is a central part of our own interest," Mogherini pointed out.

She described Saturday's informal meeting as a "very intense and productive working session". No formal decisions were to be taken. Ministers went through the further steps in PESCO, considering that 17 projects are already running and the state-of-play of their implementation will be presented at the June European Council. "We have decided to adopt a new wave of projects later this year. This shows the level of commitment but also satisfaction that Member States have on the process we've launched," the European Commission Vice-President said.

"We have focused on one flagship project in terms of EU-NATO cooperation: military mobility. Its purpose is to allow the smooth and efficient movement of military forces across the EU and beyond, removing existing procedural and regulatory obstacles but also reinforcing European infrastructures for the transportation of military equipment, something very practical."

Mogherini informed Ministers of her intention to present a detailed proposal by mid-June on a European Peace Facility - "a new off-budget instrument to finance our defence work, military operations, but also support for our partners and also the possibility to finance military equipment of partners."

Karakachanov said at the news conference that the forum had commented on the role and mission of the European Defence Agency (EDA), and that Bulgaria had backed the efforts made so far. The Deputy PM noted that Bulgaria and the EDA will co-host a symposium on military mobility in Brussels on June 7.

Source: Sofia