In a speech to the nation to mark the April 25 official start of the European Parliament election campaign period in Bulgaria, President Rossen Plevneliev urged those competing in the election to leave side personal attacks and hostility and conduct tolerant and constructive debate.
Bulgaria’s electorate is being called to the polls on May 25 to choose 17 MEPs to represent the country in the European Parliament that will hold its inaugural meeting in July. In Bulgaria, 15 parties, six coalitions and four independent candidates are standing in the election.
The European Parliament vote is taking place against a background of months of high political tensions in Bulgaria following the outcome of the May 2013 National Assembly elections which produced an unpopular minority government.
Plevneliev said that it was important for Bulgaria to be an active participant in the European debate, not a passive observer commenting only on its internal problems.
He called on Bulgarian politicians to conduct a real quality debate on the European agenda. “Bulgarian citizens deserve this,” Plevneliev said.
“We can contribute to the development of the EU, bring it our ideas, our vision for the development of the Union. The true Bulgarian patriots bequeathed us this, to find our place in a united Europe.”
Plevneliev said that Bulgaria was one of the most pro-EU nations and this obliged those competing in the campaign to have realistic messages with clear arguments, to offer citizens the opportunity to make informed choices.
Endless scandals and smearing of opponents would serve only to alienate people from politics and from going to vote, he said.
There were many specific issues on the European agenda, Plevneliev said.
This meant that each participant, whether a party or an independent candidate, to outline their positions and their differences: “For or against membership of the euro zone and the Banking Union, for or against deepening of political integration, for or against the creation of an energy alliance, how to balance the principles of the free market and solidarity”.
It was becoming increasingly clear, Plevneliev said, that there was a danger that the EU was divided into a centre and a periphery, of the euro zone countries and the countries outside the euro area.
“More or less integration, expansion or encapsulation of the union, for more or less Europe – these are overall issues and Bulgaria cannot be silent.”
History could change Europe, he said, “before and after Crimea” – a reference to the illegal Russian annexation of part of Ukraine.
Plevneliev said that there was a serious danger of the world returning permanently to the politics of the 19th century, of great powers and peripheral countries between them.
“These are themes that determine our future – will we be in the ‘periphery’ of the EU or in the ‘heart’ of European integration processes, whether the Balkans, as our common home, will continue its course towards a peaceful and democratic development , or will it be permanently destabilized.”
Bulgaria should not only speak against the idea of a two-speed Europe and the relaunch by Russia of a great-powers policy but also should be an engine of positive change, “for a strong and integrated EU, which is the only chance of any of the member states to be a factor in the global arena”.
Bulgaria was required to add value to the European Union, especially at a crucial time, not to sit quietly in a corner or play the role of someone’s “Trojan Horse”, Plevneliev said, the last a reference to a commonly-quoted claim that has regained currency recently of Bulgaria acting in Russia’s interest in structures such as the EU and Nato.
Plevneliev said that more than a million Bulgarians live and work in member states of the European Union.
From 2014, all restrictions on work and residence of Bulgarians in other EU countries were dropped and Bulgarians could take full advantage of the common European market, he said.
“Every Bulgarian citizen already benefits from our European membership. Let us realize how much of our daily lives, the environment around us, is changing for the better, and this is because of the EU.”
Plevneliev also used the speech to record his disappointment at the fact that his idea of a national referendum on electoral reforms being held on the same day as the 2014 European Parliament vote had come to nothing.
Plevneliev made the proposal in January, but it was rejected by the parties of Bulgaria’s ruling axis.
He noted that in just a few weeks, more than 570 000 signatures in support of a referendum on electoral reform being held on May 25 had been collected.
Unfortunately, the government had made sure that the referendum had not happened, he said.