Because of Bulgaria’s geographical location and its 2018 presidency of the EU, the country can do much to help the Balkans, and this coincides with the plans of Berlin, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said after June 7 talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Borissov, in his first official visit to Germany after returning in May for a third time to head Bulgaria’s government, spent two hours in talks with Merkel.
On May 31, German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel spoke of a “Berlin plus” initiative to assist the Western Balkans. The plans envisages German co-operation and development instruments being better directed to the needs of the region, including by creating special funds for start-up business, vocational training and IT-infrastructure development.
The idea is that funding must come from the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes all EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, as well as from the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which also includes Switzerland.
The amounts have not yet been specified, because donor shares must first be clarified, but the scope of the project implies that these amounts will be significant.
According to Borissov, “the engines of the EU – Germany and France – will provide us with the necessary support to help the Balkan peoples”.
His statement came after, a day earlier, Borissov held talks in Paris with recently-elected French president Emmanuel Macron.
Borissov said that as Merkel had said, in the Balkans there are a number of geopolitical players. There were several attempts at creating spheres in influence in the region, but – he said – “the Balkans are Europe”.
He said that Bulgaria should take advantage of its 2018 presidency of the European Council to support the Western Balkans.
Borissov briefed Merkel on the development of energy projects in Bulgaria, most of all, his pet project, a proposed Balkans gas hub centred on Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Prime Minister said that he and Merkel had discussed the fight against terrorism.
Borissov reiterated that his “dream” was for the EU to become a “collective member” of Nato, adding that this concept was a matter for discussion.
A few days earlier, Borissov argued for this collective membership concept, saying that it would be more efficient, would avoid duplication and would promote cost effectiveness.
Merkel thanked Bulgaria “for its commitment to securing the border with Turkey, and Bulgaria has improved the protection of this border even though the country is not in the Schengen area.”
The German chancellor said that Bulgaria had made great efforts. She said that Bulgaria was trying to protect not only the Bulgarian-Turkish border, but also the Bulgarian-Greek border as well as the Black Sea border.
“We are working very closely on the policy of migration and refugees, a common challenge for the EU, it is important for us to be able to prosper economically, and Bulgaria still has a small per capita income, so I want investments in Bulgaria to bring truits, so that people there can see that their life is improving step by step.”
Merkel said that her government encouraged all German companies to engage in Bulgaria because this is a good investment in the future and this was good for the European internal market.
Germany was responding to Bulgaria’s request for assistance in carrying out its role in the rotating presidency of the EU next year, she said.
Merkel said that the EU faces major challenges – not only should negotiations be conducted with the UK on Brexit, but it must move forward the development of the EU in a very difficult geostrategic environment.
“We talked about Bulgaria’s situation as it is on the one hand bordering on the Western Balkans and has a great interest in stability.
“We spoke about the so-called Berlin Process in Trieste where we will talk to representatives of the Western Balkans. It is important to give a vision of hope for the prospect of these countries to support them, as there are other geopolitical actors who are also interested in having good relations with them, and we want to make it very clear that our attitude to the prospect of these countries remains unchanged,” Merkel said.
She said that Germany and the EU will continue to provide technical and financial assistance to Bulgaria for border security.
Borissov, who is due to visit Ankara in mid-June told Merkel that he would do everything in his power to improve relations between the EU and Turkey.
“We are against the consumerist attitude towards the EU, we have gathered in the EU on the basis of the principles of democracy, the rule of law of the free movement of people, and not to think of Brussels only when we want money,” Borissov said.