Bulgaria’s new PM in talks with EC chief on pandemic, recovery plan

On his first visit to Brussels since being elected Bulgaria’s Prime Minister four days earlier, Kiril Petkov held talks on December 17 with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the fight against Covid-19, ongoing work on his country’s Sustainability and Recovery Plan, and international issues.

“We will work closely together to tackle the pandemic and ensure a lasting recovery in the country,” Von der Leyen said in a tweet after her talks with Petkov.

Petkov told reporters that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was expected to cause a wave earlier than previously predicted.

“I learnt today that this wave is expected much earlier than we thought. It could be mid-January, and I was hoping it would be the end of January. So these days could be very valuable,” Petkov said.

“Vaccination should be done as soon as possible if we do not want Omicron to cause the next wave,” he said.

Petkov said that it was “no accident” that he had signed an order requiring Cabinet staff to have a green certificate for admission to government headquarters. The order takes effect on February 7.

Petkov said that people in Bulgaria – which has the lowest rate of vaccination against Covid-19 in the EU-EEA area – did not get vaccinated because they did not trust the country’s institutions and got their information from other sources.

He disclosed that his personal hairstylist, who had been an anti-vaxxer, had died of Covid-19.

Petkov said that the Sustainability and Recovery Plan would be re-submitted to the European Commission after adjustments are made. Before Petkov took office, it was announced that a revised draft of the plan, prepared by the caretaker government, had been referred to Sofia with numerous comments and questions.

“Our task of eliminating corruption in Bulgaria, which is one of the main obstacles to the plan, is much more ambitious. I think the President of the European Commission liked our firm position on this issue,” he said.

Petkov said that the moratorium on increases in utilities prices would allow the new government to carry out a full analysis of the sector in order to achieve the best electricity prices for end users.

Asked if he expected pressure on Bulgaria to change its position on the Republic of North Macedonia’s EU membership talks, Petkov said: “We need to upgrade our position with working groups, which should not be a political act, but really do their job”.

Petkov said that Bulgaria’s position was clear and it was enshrined in the coalition government agreement.

“History is important, but it cannot be the only topic. The Bulgarian interest must be protected, but it must also be upgraded. We need to talk about infrastructure – Sofia’s railway line with Skopje must finally happen. In economic terms, it is good for Macedonian businesses to be able to sell on the Bulgarian market and, accordingly, for Bulgarian businesses to be on the Macedonian market,” he said.

“We are all in the Balkans, divided, and we have so much to gain from such a process,” he said, adding that he wanted to meet his North Macedonian counterpart immediately after taking office.

(Photo: EC Audiovisual Service)

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