Bulgaria May Lose EU Presidency If It Stirs Divisions, President Warns

Politics | January 18, 2017, Wednesday // 12:39|  views

Screen capture: BNT

Outgoing Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has argued Bulgaria may be stripped of its Council of the European Union presidency if it works toward division within the EU.

In his farewell press conference alongside Vice President Margarita Popova, he has said such a move is one of the “big risks” facing the country in the months to come, a step that would be “a shame” on Bulgaria.

He has included potential problems with election results if an interim administration fails to organize fair elections, but also a surge in migratory pressure and a course to turning Bulgaria into a “periphery” of the EU.

Plevneliev has also vowed to “remain active, but non-partisan. I will watch out so that Bulgaria is not deviated from the right way. I am ready to stand at the barricade if EU membership is endangered.”

I will stay in Bulgaria,” he has announced in a response to a journalist's question, in an apparent reference to reports he may be eyeing the office of EU Commissioner after leaving the Presidency.

He has expressed confidence that the President institution remains a “source of stability.”

I worked with five governments

and three Parliaments. The situation was exceptionally critical between 2013 and 2016. I was the first President to appoint two caretaker governments,” he has recalled.

“During part of my term, the full power was in my hands,” he has also pointed out. However, cooperation with political parties and the civil society has helped him in the moments of political and parliamentary crises – as many as three during his tenure – he has said.

“[I was] the first President to hold civic debates. In all ministries there are nowadays Civic Councils... To me civil society was a unique partner.”

Plevneliev has also reminded the audience about his initiative to launch a referendum on whether to introduce online voting – one in which an overwhelming share of voters approved the step. Two other national polls were held during his tenure – one on the Belene nuclear power plant and one on switching to a majority electoral system.

There were several “firsts”

during those five years, including his decision to withdraw support from the main ruling party (during the 2013 protests which, however, he did not mention explicitly), the boycott of a swearing-in ceremony of a constitutional judge, and the first time for the head of state to keep good ties with the party that nominated him in the words of Plevneliev.

The outgoing President has called his external activity “economic diplomacy in action” by working to boost trade with China, Romania and Turkey and has recalled his numerous visits to Germany. “A record trade turnover [was reached] with Germany – EUR 5.3 B today, Germany is our biggest partner.”

The President also attended the first sod on the Southern Gas Corridor in Azerbaijan in 2014 and signed a memorandum that secured the first amounts of gas from Azerbaijan due in a few years that make a step toward reducing dependence on Russia.

Positive steps in cooperation with China, Vietnam, South Korea, Azerbaijan and Turkey were aimed at increasing the exchange with traditional partners out of the EU, he has added.

I take pride in having my modest contribution to the positive balance from the first period of EU funding.” In the 2014-2020 period, Bulgaria has absorbed some EUR 17 B, 96% of the funding available.

Other successes he has underlined include his support for judicial reform, the introduction of a dual education system, and reform of how state money is deposited, the latter having been carried out during the first government he created in 2013.

As a convinced European I said from the very beginning: “To me the EU is not foreign policy, but my family,” he has added.

Plevneliev has reiterated his criticism for

“the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.”

That I was the first Bulgarian President to oppose the Russian President makes me no hawk... I love Russia, but I do not approve the policy led by the Russian President,” he has noted, arguing he draws a distinction between "the Russian President and the Russian people".

“My position was never “against” anything but always “for”... thee rule of law. Many people call European values into question... peace, democracy, rule of law.”

“The only way is that both the weakest and the strongest ones to be led by principles, instead of the stronger ones occupying the territory of their neighbour. If we all keep silent, those who violate [the rules] will continue doing so.”

I pulled no punches for Russia” about its effort to create new spheres of influence, Plevneliev has said, but has added he did not boycott the Winter Olympics' closing ceremony in Sochi in 2014 to underline the need to avoid mixing up sports and politics.

Reiterating his advice to successor Rumen Radev, who backs a waiver of sanctions on Russia, Plevneliev has advocated for restrictive measures to be kept in place. “Sanctions are working,” he has argued. “President Radev will receive information about the effect of sanctions soon... and will be facing a big dilemma.”

Plevneliev has also said he is proud of becoming “Citizen of the Year of another country”, in a reference to an award he was handed out by Ukraine in March of last year.

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Tags: Rosen Plevneliev, Russia, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, interim government, Margarita Popova


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