IBNA/Interview with Daniel Mitov: The Schengen area needs to be kept as it is

IBNA/Interview with Daniel Mitov: The Schengen area needs to be kept as it is

Athens, April 25, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency

By Spiros Sideris

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria Mr Daniel Mitov gave an exclusive interview to IBNA. The head of the Bulgarian diplomacy spoke of the relations of his country with the EU, Russia, FYROM, Greece and Turkey and the efforts made to improve cooperation within the framework of international legality.

Are you confident that Schengen will survive and that Bulgaria will join it while the current Bulgarian government is in office?

I’m absolutely convinced that we must take a look at the European Union as exactly a Union and keep our unity alive. The Union has its external borders and our efforts need to be directed towards preserving and controlling those borders and managing those borders as well. I am also confident that Bulgaria will soon have the chance to access the Schengen Zone even if partially, to open the air and maritime borders. We are exactly looking forward to that solution and then of course after a while we can plan the full participation of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen space.

Europe needs to preserve its freedoms. No freedom that was already gained can be sacrificed and that is why the Schengen space needs to be kept as it is and all those temptation to build walls or restore borders need to be countered and wherever there are increased controls they need to be perceived only as temporary with regards to the migration crisis but nothing else.

How would you characterise Bulgaria’s current relations with Russia?

Bulgaria’s current relationship with Russia is complicated as Russia’s relations are with the whole European Union and the transatlantic community. At one hand we cannot recognize in any way as legitimate what was done in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea is illegal and the deliberate destabilization of Eastern Ukraine needs to stop. That is why we are insisting on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, and until those agreements are not fully implemented we think that the sanctions towards Russia need to remain because that is the only instrument we have. All the other alternatives are undesirable. Of course we are trying keep open channels for open communication with Russia and talk about current issues like the peace process in Syria, like the stabilization of the Middle East and North Africa in general. You know that Russia was part of the conversation related to the lifting of sanctions towards Iran. Maybe there are other issues as well which we can talk about. However, the Ukrainian crisis raises a lot of questions and a lot of concerns when it comes to the role of the Russian Federation in the geopolitical processes.

How would you characterise Bulgaria’s current relations with FYROM and how does Bulgaria want to see the crisis in that country resolved?

When it comes to the relation with Skopje our interests, the interests of all the Balkan countries, is that the western Balkans in general become part of the European Union and NATO. That is the final goal that we are pursuing. Of course, and that is the goal vis a vis FYROM. However though, in order for that to happen, reforms need to take place in the Republic of Macedonia.

That is why we are trying to motivate our friends in Skopje to return to the agreement of last year and also to set a clear agenda on the needed reforms and follow it. The political crisis right now is not helping that process. It raises more questions than answers. Even the decree of the president related to the amnesty of the members of parliament and politicians in general also raised a lot of concerns. We need to get out of this situation with, of course, the help of the European Union and all of us because we want to see one day FYROM as a member of the European Union and NATO. This is our common interest but I will mention again, reforms need to be conducted and then move towards invitations and starting of negotiations. This was the case of Bulgaria. This was the case of all other candidate countries.

We needed to conduct reforms, we needed to show our willingness to join those two unions, those two alliances, and that is why no exceptions could be made in that regard. We are ready of course to help in any possible way in order to achieve political stability in the Republic of Macedonia, but of course that goes through other processes including the signing of a good neighborly relations agreement.

The Greek and Bulgarian relations lately, after a freezing period are very good. Do you intend to take initiatives for closer cooperation  in the Balkans region and the EU?

The Greek –Bulgarian relationship is extremely flourishing and good at this very moment. I am absolutely sure that this tendency will continue in the future. Of course we have our problems but they are not a reason in order not to bring our relationship to a more and more strategic level. We will of course resolve whatever needs to be resolved but we have common challenges and common future which needs to be preserved.

Something that minister Kotzias mentions every time is that the real historical achievement and improvement of relations in the framework of the European Union is not between France and Germany but between Bulgaria and Greece. We’ve been here for thousands of years together, we’ve had our historical moments, we have gone through those and now the European values, the European Union and future unites us more than ever and that’s how it needs to stay. That is why we are here today in this regional format in order to discuss the common challenges related to migration. But in the future this type of conversation could be extended to other topics like energy cooperation for example which is another big issue which we are bound to resolve together.

What about the trucks drivers who closed the borders from the Bulgarian side for the Easter period?

The Bulgarian government is not encouraging such actions but you know that for years and years farmers on the Greek side have basically been violating the freedom of movement through the Bulgarian-Greek border and unfortunately this has led and escalated to a moment of reaction. Now, we have spoken today with our colleagues, both minister Toskas and minister Kotzias and we have agreed to use more actively the contact center in Promahon and see what kind of mechanisms we can create there in order to prevent such problems in the future. Also personal engagement of the ministers whenever such events occur; I hope they won’t.

You know probably that the Bulgarian tourist associations have reacted against such a blockage because this will hit their economic activity. But I cannot deny that the frustration among the truck driver and logistics associations is huge and it is valid because the basic principles of the European Union, freedom of movement, are being violated with this farmers’ blockade. Those people need to somehow be heard and understood. No-one wants to make any problems on the border but the frustrations have grown already quite a lot and we need to mediate this, both governments need to mediate this and calm down the situation. And give some kind of guarantees that this won’t happen in the future.

I would like your comment on the EC statement that Turkey has met less than half of the key conditions for visa liberalization. Are you concerned of the collapse of the Turkey-EU agreement?

Visa liberalization will be granted to Turkey only if Turkey, of course, fulfils all 72 requirements needed, the provisions needed to have such visa liberalization. So that is why the European Commission has made the statement it did. The enlargement process and the visa liberalization process needs to be equal for all candidate countries. Exceptions cannot be made for anyone. There are certain requirements that need to be fulfilled and Bulgaria especially is looking at the implementation of the re-admission agreement between the European Union and Turkey and the signing of the bilateral protocols related to the re-admission agreement. That is part of the requirements that need to be met in order to move forward.

Of course we need to think of the consequences and negotiate with Turkey even other mechanisms which are guaranteeing the correct implementation of the visa liberalization if such is granted.

Are you optimistic about the future of the EU?

Yes of course. The European Union is a political achievement which is probably the most successful thing that Europe has ever reached and it needs to be nurtured, preserved and developed. The crises are giving not only challenges to the European Union, they are providing us with opportunities to deepen our political integration and create mechanisms in order to more effectively meet and manage crisis situations.

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Photo: Spiros Sideris/IBNA