The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union opened officially on Thursday. The ceremony at Sofia's Ivan Vazov National Theatre was attended by EU and Bulgarian leaders.
Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said in an address: "We in the Balkans know well that division breeds tragedy. Europe is too big to be monolithic and too small to be divided. That is why the motto of the Bulgarian EU Presidency is 'United We Stand Strong.'" The President noted that Bulgaria has given the European family a lot, and has a lot more to give.
National Assembly Chair Tsveta Karayancheva expressed her confidence that the Bulgarian EU Presidency will be successful.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said that, together, we should overcome the challenges and "make Europe fit for the future." Discussing one of the challenges, Tajani thanked Bulgaria for its "strong engagement for the defence of our external border."
European Council President Donald Tusk surprised and delighted everyone by delivering his whole statement in Bulgarian. He started out by reciting the opening lines of "Beloved Fatherland," an iconic poem by the patriarch of Bulgarian literature Ivan Vazov, who has lent his name to the venue of the ceremony. Tusk went on to say that, as a Pole, he knows how much work, courage, and determination it must have taken the Bulgarians to achieve their European successes. He hailed the fact that the future of the Western Balkans is one of the priorities of the Bulgarian EU Presidency.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Bulgaria will be leading Europe during the next six months and beyond. Juncker observed that the current Presidency comes at a crucial moment when a number of initiatives are rolling out to shape the bloc's future.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov listed some of the important matters on the EU agenda, such as the cohesion policy, an expected 10 billion euro decrease in the bloc's budget, the dispute between the EU and Poland, the Western Balkans, common European defence, and the migration crisis.
After the statements, the National Radio Children's Choir sang the anthem of Europe. A rich and varied concert followed.
The ceremony proceeded against the backdrop of street protests against the European Union, and for and against property development in Pirin National Park, among other issues. The protests were staged in Sofia and other cities.