Emmanuel Macron’s tour of Eastern Europe reached Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast on August 25, where, in meetings with President Roumen Radev and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, the French president offered support for Sofia’s wishes to join the Schengen visa-free travel area and the euro zone’s waiting room, the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM2).
For their part, Radev and Borissov were both on board with Macron’s initiative for tighter EU regulation of the “posted workers” issue, which has been at the top of the French president’s agenda since taking office.
“Posted workers” are employees hired in the lower-income countries from Eastern Europe who work in jobs in Western European countries, while at the same time remaining subject to the labour laws from their country of origin. France, which has one of the highest rates of such “posted workers”, sees such employees as undercutting it own domestic labour force.
Macron’s late-summer Eastern European tour is meant to win support from countries of the region that are the source of such low-wage employees and, prior to his stop in Bulgaria, he has already won the backing of Czech, Slovak and Romanian officials.
At the Euxinograd official residence on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, Macron criticised Poland, which opposes proposed changes to this issue, and warned that Warsaw risked isolation and being marginalised inside the EU.
Bulgaria, on the other hand, could have a much larger role in the discussions about the bloc’s future. Acknowledging that Sofia had met all the technical criteria for Schengen membership, Macron said after his meeting with Borissov that Bulgaria would be part of the talks about the future of the Schengen area and, when admitted, would be part of a “new Schengen”.
He said that he would support Bulgaria’s bid to join the ERM2, a recently-stated goal of the Borissov administration, and said he was hopeful that Bulgaria would become a bigger part of all discussions regarding the future of the EU and the euro zone already this year.
During his meeting with Radev, the two presidents also discussed security issues, with Macron saying that France stood ready to assist Bulgaria as it embarks on projects to modernise its armed forces.
Before the global financial crisis, Bulgaria was close to finalising a deal for patrol ships with a French company and, with naval modernisation back on the agenda, that relationship could receive a new impetus. Bulgaria also wants to upgrade its air force and although French-made Rafale jets are not among the current contenders, that could change should the government in Sofia restart the competition from scratch, reports in Bulgarian media said.