The process of Bulgaria adopting a new ordinance on the integration of refugees, after the 2016 version was controversially scrapped by the caretaker cabinet at the insistence of President Roumen Radev, will not be a quick one.
The scrapping of the September 2016 ordinance has been criticised in various quarters, including by European People’s Party president Joseph Daul, while GERB MEP Andrei Kovachev said that the repeal decision meant that Bulgaria had violated about 20 EU directives.
Daul, in a message on Twitter on March 31, described the repeal as very bad news and against EU practice.
The ordinance provided for the use of EU funds to assist municipalities that volunteered to participate in the process of integrating refugees though, among other things, educational, language-training and job-seeking programmes.
Approved under the previous Boiko Borissov government, it came under political attack from Radev when he was a socialist-backed candidate in the 2016 presidential elections, and again came under attack from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which ran second in the March 2017 parliamentary elections.
After talks in Sofia on April 4 with visiting European Council President Donald Tusk, Radev again sought to defend the repeal of the ordinance.
Speaking after a scheduled cabinet meeting on April 5, a few days after a special meeting of the Gerdzhikov government scrapped the ordinance, caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Denitsa Zlateva said that a working group’s draft of a new version would be ready by April 7.
The working group’s new draft was in its “final stages,” according to Zlateva, who in the interim administration is in charge of Bulgaria’s preparations to hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2018.
It would then be published for public discussion and all comments would be taken into account. There are two possible periods for the timeframe for the public consultation, 30 days and a shortened 15-day deadline.
The working group on a new version of the ordinance was established “long before” the March 31 meeting of the caretaker cabinet repealed the ordinance, she said.
After the Friday special meeting of the cabinet, caretaker Interior Minister Plamen Uzunov said that the draft ordinance to be ready by April 7 should take into account international law, set clear criteria for integrtion and ensure peace and security in the country.
Those who supported the scrapping of the ordinance claimed that it lacked clear criteria and requirements for social and cultural integration of refugees and was generating tensions in municipalities where mayors should fulfil the legal requirements while also coping with public attitudes.
Critics such as Kovachev have dismissed the caretaker cabinet’s move – taken after a discussion of about two hours on Friday evening – and the actions of Radev as “populist and illogical”.
There was nothing alarming about the ordinance, given that participation in the scheme was voluntary, Kovachev told local media.
He said that he hoped the new GERB government would regulate the issue of the integration of refugees, so as not to expose Bulgaria to a suspension of EU funds or penalty procedures.
Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party won the most votes in the March 2017 elections, and is negotiating with the nationalist United Patriots on the formation of a coalition government.
(Photo: M Ilcheva/DW)