Addressing a This is Europe debate in the European Parliament on November 22, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov underlined that his country’s full membership in the EU and Nato is the biggest guarantee for the continuation of the democratic and European path of development of Bulgaria.
“We must therefore complete our European integration by joining Schengen and the euro zone,” Denkov told MEPs, thanking the European Parliament for its repeated support for Bulgaria’s Schengen zone accession.
Denkov, who dwelt on historical context in his address, said that in its recent history, Bulgaria had been subject to continuous attempts at domination, some of them successful, by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
“Unfortunately, these Great Russian appetites continue even today, and our country is subject to targeted hybrid attacks,” he said.
“Putin’s secret services and propaganda are taking advantage of our country’s economic and raw material ties to Russia, as well as the historical and cultural ties between our peoples, to divide and pit our society between Russophiles and Euro-Atlanticists,” he said.
Denkov said that unfortunately, the EU is “not an isolated island of peace and prosperity”.
He pointed to Russia’s war on Ukraine, the renewed armed conflict and volatile situation in the Middle East, the worrying situation in the Far East and the unstable situation in Africa.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to these geopolitical challenges,” Denkov said.
“To deal with them, Europe must be strong, and to be strong, it must be united. The two main ideological and political currents in the European Union, conservatism and liberalism, can and should develop not in sharp conflict, but in mutual understanding and cooperation,” he said.
Denkov said that at the same time, the EU must strengthen its ties with its strategic Nato allies and strengthen its defence capabilities in cooperation between countries within the EU, including giving “careful consideration” to the idea of creating a single European army.
Given the complex international situation, the enlargement of the European Union becomes extremely important, Denkov said.
“Bulgaria has always been a determined supporter of the acceptance of the Western Balkans into the European Union. At the same time, we believe that the countries of this critical region for stability and peace in Europe should be accepted when they meet all the necessary requirements.
“Accession must be based on real achievements that reflect the applicants’ desire to develop as an integral part of the European family, not as a result of political calculations,” Denkov said.
He said that Bulgaria’s welcomed the European Commission’s decision to recommend the opening of accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, and hoped that Georgia will join this group in the near future.
In the ensuing debate, MEPs from the political families of parties participating in supporting Denkov’s government welcomed its pro-European orientation and a return to stability.
Leftist MEPs criticised Denkov for not mentioning social justice issues in his speech.
Ultra-right MEPs voiced opposition to Bulgaria’s Schengen accession, while other MEPs said that Bulgaria continued to not do enough regarding high-level corruption cases in the past.
Bulgarian MEPs participating in the debate tended to focus on parochial political issues, leading one, Ilhan Kyuchyuk of Renew Europe (of which the Movement for Rights and Freedoms is a member party) to chide them to remember that the event was about the future of Europe, not Bulgarian domestic politics.
Replying to the 90-minute debate, Denkov said the formation of the government he heads – which took office in June 2023 – had been the only possible pro-European option.
He expressed disappointed that MEPs had to bring in domestic political issues, describing this as unnecessary.
Responding to allegations made in the debate that Bulgaria’s temporary exemption from EU sanctions on oil of Russian oil was being exploited for sanctions-busting, Denkov said that never had Bulgaria violated these EU regulations nor broken the bloc’s law.
“Lukoil is not violating the law on processing oil. I have checked and there is no such violation,” he said.
On criticisms of Bulgaria blocking North Macedonia’s path towards EU accession, Denkov reiterated that Bulgaria had been the first country to recognise that country as an independent state in the 1990s, but later, relations had deteriorated.
Bulgaria had no claims and no demands towards North Macedonia beyond fulfilment of the provisions in the bilateral treaty on good-neighbourly relations, Denkov said.
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