site.btaUPDATED PM Denkov, EU Commissioner Ivanova Meet in Sofia, Discuss Bulgaria's Priorities in Context of Schengen, Eurozone Bid
Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov met with European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth Iliana Ivanova in Sofia on Thursday. Ivanova said during a joint news briefing that they met to discuss Bulgaria's current priorities in the context of the country's aspiration to join the Schengen area and the eurozone, as well as some key aspects of Ivanova's portfolio in the commission.
Denkov said that the two fully agree about the Bulgarian priorities and approach.
Ivanova stressed that it is important for her to work with the Denkov government. "You, working on national level, need to ensure the stability that is needed and make fast and adequate decisions, and I need to represent this country in the college of EU commissioners as it is faced with important matters to address: the review of the mid-term and long-term financial framework. We need to have a place at the table as these issues are being discussed," Ivanova said.
This is Ivanova's first official visit to this country after taking office as EC Commissioner. She is also scheduled to meet with President Rumen Radev, National Assembly Chair Rosen Zhelyazkov, Education Minister Galin Tzokov, Culture Minister Krastyu Krastev, and Innovation and Growth Minister Milena Stoycheva, the EC Representative Office in Bulgaria said. Ivanova will hold discussions with GERB leader and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Boyko Borissov.
The Council of the European Union appointed Iliana Ivanova as the new Bulgarian Commissioner on September 19. She took the seat of Mariya Gabriel who came down as Commissioner to join the new Bulgarian government, and will have it until the end of the tenure the Ursula Von der Leyen Commission on October 31, 2024. Ivanova’s appointment was approved by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament (EP) after successful hearings by two EP committees. Until her appointment as Commissioner, Ivanova served as Bulgaria’s representative to the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. Prior to that, she was an MEP from GERB/EPP.
The Recovery and Resilience Plan
"With regard to the SMP, we all know there is a delay," Denkov said. He explained that the delay is related to some of the most comprehensive reforms needed: in the judicial system and in the energy sector. "The changes in the justice system and in the energy sector are not being made because someone wants them, but because they are changes that are needed in order to secure a better future for the people of Bulgaria," Denkov said.
He is optimistic that this will be understood and pointed out that the documents will be presented in the first week of October. "They will outline the changes in the recovery plan, the territorial just transition plans, and the roadmap for climate transition," the Prime Minister added. He went on to explain that submitting the documents to the EC will start a negotiating process, in which Bulgaria will have two or three months until the end of the year to finalize all texts.
"Payments are made when certain key milestones are met and the sooner these projects are implemented by the Bulgarian government, the better," Ivanova said. She noted that the request for the second payment under the recovery plan is for EUR 724 million. There has been full cooperation from the EC so far, she stressed.
Commenting Bulgaria's bid to join Schengen, Denkov said that the only possibility which is being discussed, is for Bulgaria to be admitted in December 2023. "We are working for this," he said.
The Commission's position is very clear, Ivanova said. Not only do Bulgaria and Romania meet the membership criteria, but they actively contribute to the better functioning of the Schengen system, the commissioner added.
Regional innovation valleys
Regional innovation valleys are a really important and interesting topic through which we can help catch up with other countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the EU, Ivanova said. She explained that the EC's goal is to build 100 regional innovation valleys. In Bulgaria, such a regional innovation valley in the field of bioeconomy and food will be opened in Plovdiv in October, she added. She said the aim is to help small and medium-sized enterprises.
Bulgaria has a specific weakness: the poor matchup and possibility of transferring research into innovation, Denkov said. For more than 10 years, different governments have been saying that a law on innovation should be prepared. Bulgaria has not yet adopted a law to regulate the protection of intellectual property for scientific innovation, Denkov said.
He noted that the new law on research and innovation is ready, and is to be submitted to the Council of Ministers in the coming weeks, voted on and submitted to the National Assembly for adoption. The Prime Minister pointed out that there is already a regional hydrogen valley in Stara Zagora. "We are gradually starting to catch up with those milestones that have been delayed," he added.
Territorial just transition plans
The Prime Minister further commented a clash between his Continue the Change - Democratic Bulgaria (CC-DB) coalition and GERB-UDF over the territorial just transition plans for coal regions on Wednesday.
GERB said that the plans were "scandalous" as they included a list of companies expecting to get hefty EU funding - EUR 1.706 billion, according to GERB - that it remained unclear how those were picked and that some of them are known to have donated to CC-DB. Denkov immediately denied the allegations and said those were companies intending to invest in the coal regions. He also said that intentionally or not, GERB lied to people about what the territorial plans are about.
On Thursday, he said "what happened last night is the result of a misunderstanding". He explained again that the government has compiled preliminary information about companies that are interested in investing in the coal regions; that a competition will be opened next year and then the rules and the national co-financing will be determined. "This morning I spoke to [GERB leader] Boyko Borissov and I think we cleared this misunderstanding," Denkov said.
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Later in the day Ivanova also met with GERB leader Boyko Borissov. Borissov's post on his Facebook page indicates that the two discussed the latest details of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan as well as Bulgaria's prospects for joining the euro area and Schengen. They also talked about Bulgaria's role in developing innovation, computer and information technologies.
Borissov and Ivanova also agreed that Europe should continue to support Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression.