Prime Minister Boyko Borissov presented the priorities of the Bulgarian EU Council Presidency to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
Among the priorities he presented were a secure and stable Europe, the Western Balkans, and digital skills.
"Within a year Bulgaria managed to make it so that there be zero migration pressure. On the Bulgarian-Turkish border we have showed how through the European solidarity and assistance, and with the efforts of the State and the agreement with Turkey we limit to a minimum the migration pressure," Borissov told the MEPs. He went on to say that despite the need to uphold firmly the rule of law and media freedom, the EU-Turkey agreement should continue to be applied because Turkey cares for millions of migrants. The Bulgarian EU Presidency will try with a lot of tact and diplomacy to solve the issue with the migrants' future allocation, he added.
Speaking about the Western Balkans' European perspective, Borissov said that Bulgaria has proposed an option that does not bear risks for the EU. "We know that within the mandate of this European Commission there will be no new Balkan countries admitted to the EU. At the same time, however, we should tell them very clearly and honestly what hopes they may have for their integration in Europe. This is the right moment to do this," the Bulgarian PM explained.
According to him, Bulgaria and Macedonia have given an exceptional example that with tact and benevolence the Balkan countries can solve problems, and not come to the EU with their problems. Borissov recalled that the Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation Agreement between Bulgaria and Macedonia has already been signed. "We truly hope that now the name process between Skopje and Athens will be concluded; this creates prospects for NATO and the EU," he noted.
Talking about the EU sanctions against Russia, Borissov said that some want the sanctions to be lifted, while others want these to be deepened. "We will seek normalization of the relations [with Russia] but this goes well above the threshold of what we can do: this should be a decision of the entire EU," Borissov underscored.
In relation to the EU budget, he said that he relies on the European Parliament, and noted the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy and the EU Cohesion Policy. He insisted that the latter be preserved in the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
"Bulgaria has an economic growth of 4 per cent, an unemployment rate of 6 per cent, a huge financial reserve, and zero inflation. I think we are ready to enter the Eurozone waiting room," Borissov also said.
Commenting on the matter of common defence, Borissov said that in the current geopolitical challenges the EU usually reacts to events post factum.
Following the plenary debate, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani issued a statement in which he expresses confidence that the Bulgarian Presidency will contribute to the elaboration of a Multiannual Financial Framework which reflects the priorities of migration, security and youth employment.
"Bulgaria is a main actor to promote security and has shown itself to be a reliable partner in the control of external borders. We count on its Presidency to move forward in these essential sectors. We also look forward to a decisive contribution on the management of migration flows and asylum," the statement reads.
"Bulgaria has travelled a long way in the last years. Ten years from its accession it is now a motor for growth and stability in the region, also thanks to its strategic geographic position, Bulgaria can play a key role in supporting and guiding the path to Union membership for our neighbours in the Western Balkans," Tajani said. "Bulgaria is no longer a 'new Member State'. Now it is leading Europe, and I am convinced that it will do this with success. I strongly hope that it also joins Schengen and the Euro at the earliest," he added in his statement.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Borissov talked with the European Parliament President, the Government Information Service said. During the meeting it was underscored that the priorities of the Bulgarian EU Presidency correspond to a large degree to the MEPs' working programme. Tajani praised the inclusion of the topic of youth and the development of the Western Balkans as accents in the Bulgarian EU Presidency's programme.
On Tuesday, Borissov presented the priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council to the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), which is the largest political group in the European Parliament, the Government Information Service reported.
The participants in the meeting discussed the need to stimulate economic growth and social cohesion in order to guarantee the future of Europe and of young people, ways to improve Western Balkans connectivity and the European perspective for the countries and the people in the region, EU security and stability issues, and boosting economic competitiveness through digitalization and cultivating skills and competencies adequate to current challenges.
The political group members congratulated Borissov on the focus which the Bulgarian Presidency places on the Western Balkans and on the steps that the Prime Minister himself and the Government in Sofia are taking to promote dialogue between the States.
The Bulgarian head of government thanked for the support and stressed that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had assured him that Austria will continue the topics raised during the Bulgarian Presidency.