Sofia, February 18, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria will take its seat at a February 18 and 19 European Council meeting that is to debate the UK’s relations with the EU, with Bulgaria to underline that it cannot support proposals that are inconsistent with the EU Treaties and which discriminate against EU citizens by reference to national citizenship.
The European Council also will be discussing the latest developments in the migrant crisis in Europe. Bulgaria’s position is that it wants the external borders of the EU secured but, on the issue of restoring internal borders in the Schengen area, believes that this will lead to a breach of the principle of free movement of people, goods and services and to significant losses to national economies.
Bulgaria’s positions on the UK-EU issue and on the migrant crisis were underlined in recent days in a document adopted by the government’s Council on European Affairs and in statements by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and by Meglena Kouneva, Deputy Prime Minister for co-ordination of European policies.
Speaking on February 16 at an EU General Affairs Council meeting, Kouneva said that with regard to the proposed package of reforms regarding the UK-EU relations, Bulgaria found them a good basis for compromise.
“Our country, however, has comments on the part of freedom of movement and social security and these proposals should be carefully reviewed so that it does not lead to discrimination based on nationality,” Kouneva said.
The Council on European Affairs, in its position adopted on February 15, noted the political exchanges of views at the meeting of the European Council in December 2015 on the plans of the United Kingdom to hold a referendum on staying or leaving the EU.
The European Council will try to agree on a mutually satisfactory solutions in all four areas (economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty and freedom of movement).
Bulgaria could not support proposals that are inconsistent with the EU Treaties and which discriminate against EU citizens by reference to national citizenship, the Council on European Affairs said.
In terms of economic governance of the EU, Bulgaria supports enabling greater flexibility.
“At the same time we believe that deeper integration in the euro area must not restrict the powers of countries outside the euro area. Bulgaria will adopt a position that any short-term initiatives must be open to the participation of all member states,” the Bulgarian Council on European Affairs said.
Bulgaria maintains a position in favour of setting targets to reduce the regulatory burden at EU level.
“Our country will express support for the need to improve legislation on the single market. We believe that the easing of administrative services through digitization and reducing the tax burden for micro enterprises will be conducive to stimulating the EU economy. Bulgaria welcomes the use of the SME test for changes in European legislation as this will ensure that the changes will be tailored to the needs of small and medium businesses.”
Bulgaria agrees that the concept of “ever closer union” allows a different approach to the integration of different member states. At the same time it should take into account the danger of a possible fragmentation of the Union and shaping various circles of integration within the EU, the Council on European Affairs said.
“We are convinced that the Union can achieve common goals, when united and speaking with one voice.”
In terms of social benefits, Bulgaria will actively participate in finding a compromise that creates the one hand, the balance between the principle of free movement and equal treatment of citizens of the Union and on the other, the right of each member state to defend itself against abuse.
On the migration issue, Borissov said on February 15 that Bulgaria’s position was that it wanted all external borders of the EU closed but not those within Europe.
He said that the focus of EU efforts should remain on the root causes of migration.
Borissov said that all EU member states should take due responsibility in terms of the messages they send. According to Borisov, this would give more weight to the decisions and signal unity of the EU that can only be helpful in contacts with key third countries.
He reiterated Bulgaria’s position on the need for enhanced security at the external borders of the EU. Borisov also highlighted the need for a differentiated EU approach towards refugees and economic migrants.
At the EU’s General Affairs Council, Kouneva said that the conclusions of the European Council should give a clear signal to citizens that EU countries were taking measures to regain control.
Kouneva was adamant that Schengen should be maintained and issued a reminder that Bulgaria had fulfilled all the conditions for entry.
Speaking to reporters, Kouneva said that closing borders would not solve the problem but would lead to finding alternative routes to reach the same countries.
The position adopted by the Bulgarian government’s Council on European Affairs was that Bulgaria would state that future EU action should focus on supporting those EU countries which, because of their geographic location, were having to take on more responsibilities.
An effective return policy and readmission is crucial for success, “it must be enshrined as a priority in our cooperation with countries of origin and transit”.
For Bulgaria, a key partner in this area is Turkey, “and we will insist that it fulfill its commitments in the EU-Turkey Action Plan”.
As regards restoring internal borders in the Schengen area, Bulgaria believes that this will lead to a breach of the principle of free movement of people, goods and services and to significant losses to national economies. That is why it is crucial to ensure the protection of the external borders of the EU, the Council on European Affairs said.
The European Council is due to discuss the UK issue on the afternoon of February 18 and the migration issue over dinner in the evening. Turkey’s prime minister was invited to attend the latter discussion and had been scheduled to do so, but cancelled after the fatal bomb attack in Ankara on February 16.
(Photo of David Cameron and Jean-Claude Juncker: EC Audiovisual Service)