Bulgarian PM sees improving military capabilities, full integration in Nato as key to safety

Speaking after talks in Brussels with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said that there were only two ways to ensure Bulgaria’s safety – to improve its military capabilities and to be fully integrated into the structures of Nato.

Denkov said that while defence spending in the current year amounted to just less than 1.9 per cent of GDP, the draft Budget envisaged this rising to the two per cent benchmark next year, and “well above” two per cent in 2025.

He said that the government was making an effort to build up military capacity, wanting to catch up with the delay in doing so, and saw Nato assisting in this effort.

“The risks became very visible when Russia invaded Ukraine, because it was clear that for the first time since the Second World War someone in Europe was ready to violate the borders,” Denkov said.

“Recent events do not change the picture much,” he said, referring to the Wagner group’s short-lived mutiny in Russia this past weekend.

“We are at the same risk and the best way to reduce this risk is to help Ukraine, because Ukraine’s victory – victory in the sense of them regaining their territories – is the best way to protect the rest of the countries in Europe, including Bulgaria,” Denkov said.

Stoltenberg told the joint news conference in Brussels that Bulgaria had an important role in the Alliance’s collective defence, noting that Bulgaria was active in deterrence and defence in the Black Sea region and was the location of the multinational Nato battle group led by Italy.

On June 28, speaking at a briefing after talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, Denkov said in response to a question that Defence Minister Todor Tagarev has already stated Bulgaria’s desire to join the joint procurement of ammunition by the European Defence Agency in connection with the war in Ukraine. This is important for Bulgaria’s defence industry, Denkov said.

Tagarev, speaking in the National Assembly on June 29, said that the move to join the joint ammunition procurement, an EU initiative to provide a million artillery shells to Ukraine, would be preceded by a Cabinet decision and the signing of an agreement now being drafted by the Cabinet office.

He said that participation in such projects had a political advantage, in showing Bulgaria’s support for the EU’s policy on joint procurement in defence, and would provide an opportunity to bolster Bulgaria’s armed forces through bids for the supply of ordnance which Bulgaria’s own factories do not currently produce.

There was also a cost advantage, in the form of potentially lower costs for larger orders, while joint procurement would eliminate possible competition among the countries.

Meanwhile, Denkov said at the talks with Von der Leyen and Michel that the Bulgarian government was making every effort to catch up on the backlog that had been found in respect of the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), so that the second payment to Bulgaria would be possible by the end of 2023.

Denkov told reporters that the main reason for the serious delay was the lack of a clear idea how to fulfill the European Commission’s requirements while at the same time taking care of the people and the development of the economy in the coal-mining areas of Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian government was urgently preparing an analysis of the issue, which would be discussed with the European Commission.

He said that the second payment under the RRP was also related to a certain number of reforms and adoption of legislation by the National Assembly.

Half of these reforms had not been done and “we are catching up,” Denkov said.

Regarding the other key priority of the government – the accession of Bulgaria to the euro zone, Denkov said that not only technical preparation is important.

It was equally important for people to understand that the transition to the euro would not lead to upheavals, as Bulgaria had been within a currency board arrangement and tied to the European currency for 25 years, he said.

This is Denkov’s first visit to Brussels as Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, a post to which he was elected on June 6. He is heading the Bulgarian delegation to the June 29-30 European Council meeting.

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