Sunday

26th May 2019

Interview

Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border

  • 'I want to be able to see, to touch, to clearly understand what's being discussed,' Borisov said about the asylum reform (Photo: eu2018bg/Flickr)

"I'm not the best of diplomats," Boyko Borisov admits. The imposing Bulgarian prime minister, who famously went into politics after having served as the former king's bodyguard, nonetheless has to sometimes use his skills to steer his country's EU presidency.

Meeting a group of journalists on Friday morning (18 May), in Sofia's Soviet-style Palace of Culture, Borisov said that the an EU-Western Balkans summit he hosted there the day before was "a success".

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  • Borisov and Serbia's Vucic (l). 'It was an emotional and important meeting for the Western Balkans' (Photo: eu2018bg/Flickr)

"It was an emotional and important meeting for the Western Balkans," he said of the first meeting of the kind in 15 years.

EU leaders - except for Spain's Mariano Rajoy (who did not want to appear to recognise Kosovo) - met their counterparts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.

Borisov pointed out that "until yesterday leaders didn't know each other very well."

During the discussion, according to several participants, Albanian prime minister Edi Rama had a "very passionate" exchange with French president Emmanuel Macron and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte - both critical of Albania's record on the fight against organised crime and corruption and wary of opening accession talks for the country.

"All the participants said how they feel. They were very frank and open to each other," Borisov noted diplomatically.

Balkan construction site

He assured that "Rama and Rutte departed with a better sense of how things stand."

The Bulgarian premier, a supporter of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, conceded that the EU has "very strict rules" on the issue and that the region's countries cannot expect an easy process.



He insisted however that stability and peace there are "very fragile" and that the EU must not leave a geopolitical vacuum.

"If something happens in Balkans, Russia and Turkey would not hesitate to intervene, as well as the US," he said, adding in particular that "Russia would not hesitate to send the jets."

On Thursday, all leaders agreed on a so-called connectivity agenda to develop infrastructures and transport or energy networks, as way to integrate the region more into the existing EU networks.

"We want to turn the Balkans into a construction site," Borisov said.


Bigger fence than Orban's?

Looking at the geopolitical situation, he argued that gas projects, for instance, "would serve as a deterrent" to external destabilisation.

"Russia, Europe, the US would have stakes here," he said.

Balkan development and EU enlargement are a long term process that will go beyond Borisov's six-month term as EU presidency term.



More pressing is the endeavour to reform the EU asylum system, and in particular the Dublin regulation, at the EU summit in June.

"We are putting great effort into securing the necessary agreement," the Bulgarian leader said.

He warned however that it would take more than "imaginary notions and metaphoric speech."

"I want to be able to see, to touch, to clearly understand what's being discussed," he said.

The 'concrete' for him is stronger borders for the EU, and Bulgaria is leading the way, "without making too much noise about what we're doing, unlike my [Hungarian] colleague [Viktor] Orban."

Bulgaria's border fence, Borisov said, "is much more sophisticated, maybe even bigger than Orban's."

"We demonstrated that when there is political will and good organisation, the border can be protected well," he argued.

Greece and Italy's duty

"If countries like Greece and Italy were able to achieve the same success, I can guarantee you that we would immediately reach an agreement on Dublin and the deal would be immediately signed by all," he said.

"It's their duty to do so," he insisted, noting that "the flow of illegal migrants [through the two countries] still concerns colleagues in Europe."

Borisov said that he proposed to his fellow leaders to take model on the US, Canada or Australia.

"If we were able to support some of the ideas that I put forward for good solid border management and controls, I think colleagues from the Visegrad Four would be reassured," he said, referring to Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - the countries that are the most opposed to the plan to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

Before committing to relocation, EU leaders "want to know what the costs are," he insisted.

"The only way [to agree on a reform] is to guarantee that what we witnessed in the past will never be allowed again," he said, referring to the 2015 migration crisis.

"If not successful at managing such situation, if something happens tomorrow we might have hundreds of millions [of migrants coming]. How do we manage that?

'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

At the first summit in 15 years with Western Balkan leaders, EU chiefs made it clear that enlargement is not at hand - but offered economic incentives to keep the region close to the bloc.

EU states tackle Dublin asylum reform 'line by line'

A Friends of the Presidency group, set up by the Bulgarian EU presidency, has sifted through the European Commission's proposal to reform Dublin, an EU asylum law that has sparked widespread political tensions and divisions.

Opinion

Is Bulgaria the EU's next rule of law crisis?

A failing economy, corruption, and intimidation of judges and media - after Poland and Hungary, Bulgaria seems like Europe's next rule of law crisis.

Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election

Belgians will be electing MPs to six parliaments, on top of the European Parliament, with Greens expected to fare well at both the federal and regional levels.

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EU leaders praised Theresa May's commitment to deliver an orderly Brexit - while they now brace themselves for an even more eurosceptic British prime minister.

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