PM Borissov Reports to Parliament Results of Bulgarian EU Presidency

Sofia, July 13 (BTA) - Addressing Parliament Friday to report the accomplishments of the first Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2018, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said that there is "a historic chance Bulgaria should not miss to reconfirm the confidence it earned among all European partners and neighbouring countries with all their citizens". Borissov also thanked the Bulgarian parliamentarians for the good cooperation and their work during the Presidency.

In the ensuing debate, the Socialists were the only ones to put to harsh criticism the Presidency and refuse to acknowledge any of its accomplishments.

Borissov argued that the good results of the Presidency "show our responsibility, professionalism and commitment to the European cause".

He said the Presidency was "a test of our European identity and we showed that we understand the European priorities and can work with dedication for their accomplishment".

He commended the good work of the administration in Sofia and Brussels.

Borissov went back to the start of the Bulgarian Presidency - a half-year ahead of schedule due to Brexit: 105 opened legislative dossiers on January 1 and 30 more at a later stage, 58 Council conclusions and 17 progress reports.

He went on the report progress achieved in a myriad of areas during the Bulgarian Presidency.

He said it ensured a smooth negotiating process on the next multiannual financial framework with guarantees for keeping the successful policies (cohesion, CAP) and new budgets for digitalization and new jobs.

Dedicated efforts helped overcome the differences among the member states and they agreed on a common approach on the banking package, said Borissov.

"Eco-innovations were among the priorities, as was air quality, for which we received congratulations from the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament," he said.

He went on to mention the efforts in the area of youth; the competitiveness of the European economy; the campaign for overcoming what he called "discriminatory practices" with respect to consumers in Central and Eastern Europe; the energy sector; the Danube Strategy; digital education; cyber security.

"To the attention of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which is much interested in social issues, we have achieved progress in areas which have to do with social rights, including equal access to the labour market and the posted workers directive," Borissov said.

He singled out the accomplishments in protecting the EU border and said it is a tough task. He underscored the role of dialogue with Turkey for handling the migrant pressure. "We managed to come together with the European partners for continuing dialogue with Turkey," said Borissov and mentioned the importance of the Varna meeting of the EU and Turkey's leaders in May.

Borissov said in conclusion that Bulgaria's work continues during the Austrian Presidency in the second half of the year, with three priorities which it is following up on: security and combatting illegal migration; digitalization; stability in the neighbourhood and the European perspectives of the Western Balkans.

Western Balkans: a signature achievement

The Western Balkans featured prominently in Borissov's address to Parliament. He said the signature achievement of the Bulgarian Presidency was the emphasis on the European perspectives of the Western Balkans. "We have been able to take the issue out of its delicate context. More funding for connectivity - transport and digital, and for youth projects, has been provided."

He said that differences in the Balkans should be overcome with dialogue and that the good-neighbourliness treaty between Bulgaria and Macedonia is a model for this. One consequence of this was that in late June the Council made a decision getting a timeframe for the opening of accession talks with Macedonia and Albania, he added.

Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said in her remarks to the legislature that Bulgaria "was able to unblock the European perspective of the Western Balkans", and all leaders of the EU member states and the countries in the Western Balkans agree with this conclusion.

She said over 80 per cent of Bulgarians believe that Bulgaria did a good job.

She thanked Parliament for its support "despite some criticism", and said that the support of the parliamentary committees on foreign policy and European affairs "was felt throughout the Presidency".

Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov, too, said the biggest ambition of Bulgaria is to see progress in bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU and NATO, and it was accomplished - which everybody, including the Western Balkans themselves, recognize.

Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev dismissed allegations that Bulgaria is causing a rift in the EU and in the trans-Atlantic community as a result of its Presidency.

He also dismissed as untrue claims that the cohesion package has been trimmed and said that talks on the cohesion funding are yet to be held. He said that the funding for cohesion in the ongoing programming period stands at 371.5 billion euro and an increase to 373 billion is intended - which is a nominal increase. He admitted though what critics say, that there is no increase if inflation is factored in. He urged the MPs not to disregard the facts when they make passionate statements in the plenary and said many of the things that have been said in Parliament about the multiannial financial framework "were, to put it mildly, untrue".

GERB: Success despite the multiple challenges

In the ensuing debate in the plenary, the ruling GERB party praised the Bulgarian Presidency for being successful "in an atmosphere of multiple global and geo-political challenges in the EU", in the words of the chair of the parliamentary foreign policy committee, Djema Grozdanova.

She said that despite the efforts of the Left opposition "to create political discomfort for the Presidency", it worked for united and strong Europe. She then bashed the Socialists for criticizing without offering alternatives.

She commended the Presidency for its transparency and pointed out that all EU institutions gave it high marks. In her words, the Presidency "successfully managed with the key challenge: to be a fair intermediary, partner and balancing factor in the debates on the priorities of the EU Trio's programme".

Socialists: Missed opportunities for Europe and for Bulgaria

The leader of the Socialist group in Parliament, Kornelia Ninova, largely repeated the official assessment of her party of the Bulgarian Presidency: that it was turned into a partisan event meant to boost the personal approval rating of a single person. She apparently meant the Prime Minister.

"This Presidency was a major opportunity for Europe and for Bulgaria but the opportunity was missed," said Ninova. She argued that the Presidency failed to answer the questions about what future awaits Europe and what is Bulgaria's place in it.

She said that during the Presidency the "Bulgarian government was sending messages of instability of the ruling coalition and the State was sending messages of insecurity for people".

United Patriots: Bulgaria Showed Character and Self-Confidence

The power-sharing United Patriots coalition said that Bulgaria did a fine job at the Presidency. "Bulgaria showed character and self-confidence. The Bulgarian voice sounded in a new tone: for the first time the government said what the Bulgarian interest is," the United Patriots floorleader Volen Siderov said and mentioned one example: the migration crisis. "We showed that we don't want to be a buffer or in Europe's periphery".

He said that the government is unfairly criticized and called for leaving behind the internal differences when it comes to Bulgaria's image to the outside world.

MRF and Volya: Good work of Presidency and six months of disregard for internal problems

The opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) and Volya said that while they agree with the positive assessments, the six months of the Presidency was a time of disregard for the internal problems.

MRF leader Mustafa Karadayi said "the war among the state institutions was energized and so were the divisions in society; hate and xenophobia reached new heights".

He also said that "the EU citizens expect tangible solutions to tangible problems, and want to see that the Union takes care of the common security, prosperity and welfare, they want less bureaucracy and pro-active decisions".

He said making the Western Balkans a priority is unquestionably a success.

Source: Sofia