Reactions to the Brexit vote among Bulgarian politicians in the National Assembly and the European Parliament included predictions of a negative effect on Bulgaria and a call on the government in Sofia to protect the interests of Bulgarians in the UK.
Bulgaria’s President and Prime Minister both already had called the result of the Brexit vote a “bad day for Europe“.
Speaking on June 24, the morning after the UK voted 52 to 28 per cent to leave the EU, the head of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee predicted a negative effect on Bulgaria and the smaller countries in the EU.
Gemma Grozdanova, of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, said that she was surprised by what she called the big difference in the voting in the referendum, with a majority of more than a million people having opted for exiting the EU.
“This will be a problem for Britain itself, because of the effect not only on the EU, but the effect on their country too. You know that in Scotland there was a referendum (on independence), and Northern Ireland too will have the opportunity to launch this topic,” Grozdanova said.
Anton Trenchev of the Reformist Bloc, the centre-right coalition that largely supports Bulgaria’s government, said that the UK referendum result was bad news.
“We find ourselves on an unmarked map, it is not clear what will happen. We should be calm and rational in reacting. The outcome of this referendum is not binding. First, the English parliament must decide, and the leaders must responsibly resist populist games, both in France, and in the Netherlands, and across the EU,” Trenchev said.
The Reformist Bloc, in a declaration read in the National Assembly by MP Martin Dimitov, said that after the referendum in the UK, the message should be that reforms in the EU are essential.
Many people in Britain were correct that the EU needed to change, and Bulgaria – although a small country – could be part of this change, the Reformist Bloc said.
It was essential to cut the bureaucracy, for money for agriculture to be much more effective, and to reduce barriers to the free movement of people, capital and services and for the EC to become a true common market. These matters should be worked on, rather than giving up on the idea of the EU, because this was Europe’s greatest idea and the most positive development in Europe after World War 2, the bloc said.
“We are convinced that the problems in the EU are solvable and the union can emerge even stronger from this situation, if it is understood as an opportunity and start made to solving them,” Dimitrov said.
“I believe that in the EU there will be a new reformist strong coalition to show that countries that leave it, lose out,” he said. Dimitrov said that when a community has problems, the solution is not to leave it, that is a weak and wrong decision.
“We must unite around the development of the European Union and firmly stop all attempts to change Bulgaria’s course, towards the (Russian-led) Eurasian union,” Dimitrov said.
Deputy Speaker Krassimir Karakachanov, co-leader of the nationalist Patriotic Front, a supporter of the government in Parliament, said that the British vote should be a powerful incentive for reform of the EU.
“Personally, I think that this resounding slap on the European bureaucracy will unclog these reforms, for which several European countries have been calling.”
Bulgaria realistically, unlike the UK, had the view that there were more benefits than losses from EU membership, Karakachanov said.
The Patriotic Front’s other co-leader, Valeri Simeonov, said that there would be “some financial difficulties” from the UK’s exit from the EU. The UK’s exit would be a problem for Europe because the country made the second-largest contribution to the EU budget, according to Simeonov.
Between the exit of the UK and the collapse of the EU “there is a much time” and intermediate stages and there was no certainty that it would come to this, he said.
“They always have been a bit on the periphery. They kept their currency. They always had their own opinion on most issues,” Simeonov said.
Kristian Vigenin, foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said that the reaction of EU leaders and institutions would be important, to fend off the same thing happening in other member states, and to improve the image and functioning of the EU.
The UK leaving the EU would have consequences for Bulgarians living in Britain, he said. Vigenin said that in the framework of the negotiations ahead, it was not clear what status EU citizens, now in the UK and having the same rights as British citizens, would have.
“Obviously these rights cannot remain the same. The Bulgarian government now must speak also on this topic. It is a matter of more than 200 000 Bulgarian citizens who at the moment work, study and live there,” Vigenin said.
Bulgaria should seek co-operation and common positions with other countries which have large communities there, such as Romania, Poland and others, to ensure that these people will get maximum rights and their lives will not be affected dramatically by the results of the referendum.
Mustafa Karadaya, leader of the opposition Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said that the referendum in the UK was an important lesson for all politicians and EU countries. It was unfortunate that in other countries, there already had been calls from extremist and nationalist formations for their countries to have referendums on leaving the EU.
“Our expectation that this lesson will be studied, the EU will find the strength, will consolidate, but also will find the right direction for its development,” said. Karadaya said that the UK quitting the EU would undoubtedly have an effect on the European and world economy.
Volen Siderov, leader of the pro-Russian Ataka party, one of the two smallest parties in Bulgaria’s Parliament, offered a conspiracy theory that there was “American involvement” in the outcome of the Brexit referendum
Andrey Kovachev, a member of the European Parliament for Borissov’s GERB party – asked in a media interview whether other countries would follow the UK’s example – said that Britain would emerge as bad example not to be followed because of what was expected to happen to its currency and economy.
“There are estimates that each household will lose 3200 pounds sterling in the coming years from this exit,” Kovachev said.
MEP Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Party of European Socialists, said: “I am truly shocked by the result of the referendum. We, the European Progressives, supported our member party – the UK Labour in their campaign for Remain.
“We wanted a strong Britain in a strong Europe and we were working together for a Social Britain in a Social Europe. Now we have to double our joint efforts,” Stanishev said. “We still believe that ‘Remain’ was the better option for both Britain and the EU, but above all, we respect the choice of the British people.”
The European Socialists and Democrats family is and will continue be a close friend and ally of the UK Labour Party, Stanishev said. “We will continue to fight for equality and social justice in Europe.”
(Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)