Bulgarian President’s visit to Poland highlights EU divides

Bulgarian President’s visit to Poland highlights EU divides

Bulgarian President Roumen Radev and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda both took shots at EU policy during Radev’s official visit to Warsaw on October 5-6, while simultaneously calling for closer “economic and social convergence” within the bloc.

Radev criticised the sanctions against Russia, imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for Ukrainian separatist militias, describing them as “damaging” and saying he hoped they would be lifted – but made no mention of the need for Russia’s compliance with the Minsk agreements to settle the conflict.

For his part, Duda re-iterated his country’s opposition to EU’s migrant relocation and resettlement agreement, for which Poland’s current government faces EU infringement proceedings.

At the same time, the two heads of state called for the EU to give more support to the “three seas initiative”, a project launched in 2016 and championed by Poland, which aims to strengthen trade, infrastructure and energy ties among EU’s Eastern European member states encompassed by the triangle formed by the Adriatic, the Baltic and the Black Sea.

Radev attended the initiative’s summit in Warsaw in July – the same summit provided the backdrop for one of the few foreign appearance by US president Donald Trump, in which he suggested Western civilisation was under siege – making it the second time the Bulgarian president has visited Poland in three months.

The visit also comes as Bulgaria prepares to assume the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on January 1. During that period, Poland is likely to be a recurring topic of discussion between European leaders – whether for its continued opposition to migrant relocation or its new judiciary laws, seen in Western European capitals as strengthening authoritarianism and undermining the rule of law.

At the joint news conference by the two presidents, Duda offered his support for the Bulgarian EU presidency, while Radev pledged to work towards “strengthening consensus between member states”.

Both presidents made every effort to paint a bright picture of bilateral relations in areas ranging from security to trade. The Bulgarian president’s office said that the two heads of state discussed co-operation within Nato and opportunities for Poland to participate in the modernisation of the Bulgarian armed forces.

It was unclear, however, whether these talks included the topic of the contract for the overhaul of MiG-29 fighter jet engines. Radev, who was Bulgaria’s air force commander before resigning last year to stand in the presidential elections, opposed the contract, recommending instead the continued maintenance by Russian companies.

It was equally unclear whether Duda brought up the topic of “posted workers” – employees hired in the lower-income countries from Eastern Europe who work in jobs in Western European countries, while at the same time remaining subject to the labour laws from their country of origin.

During French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Bulgaria in August, Radev appeared to endorse Macron’s initiative for tighter EU regulation in this area. Poland, which is one of the countries supplying the bulk of “posted workers” in Western Europe, is opposed and found itself on the receiving end of sharp remarks from Macron during the French president’s visit to Bulgaria.

Finally, Duda offered Poland’s support for Bulgaria joining the Schengen visa-free travel area. Bulgaria has met the technical requirements some years ago, but is yet to join the Schengen accord, which requires unanimous agreement from its members, because of concerns by several countries that Sofia has not done enough to reform its judiciary and fight corruption.

The question remains just how much Poland’s endorsement is worth, given its growing isolation from the rest of the EU on other issues./IBNA