IBNA/Interview with E. Zaharieva: The Western Balkans must be high on the EU agenda

IBNA/Interview with E. Zaharieva: The Western Balkans must be high on the EU agenda

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva speaks exclusively to IBNA on the sidelines of the 3rd Ministerial Cross-Border Meeting in Thessaloniki. Ekaterina Zaharieva makes a first assessment for the Bulgarian Presidency, talks about trying to reach an agreement on the new EU asylum policy and the expectations from the EU-Western Balkans Summit to be held in Sofia on 17 May.

Approaching the end of the Bulgarian presidency, what are the positive points that you’ve highlighted?

It is very difficult to make an assessment myself, but I think all the information assessed shows our presidency was very successful. Of course, there are still two months ahead of us and very important ones. In all the dossiers that we received there has been really good development and there are still some questions that everybody expected from us, for example on the new asylum policy, and we are the fifth presidency that tried to reach agreement and consensus among the 28 of us. I really hope that until the end of June we will manage finally to close this dossier. As I already mentioned, we are the fifth presidency that tried to reach full consensus on this. It is very difficult. There is an absolutely different position among the member-states.

Also, for the western Balkans, it is very important that they are very high on the agenda of the European Commission and we expect to have a really successful Sofia summit. The first was here, in this beautiful city, Thessaloniki, and unfortunately the second is after 15 years, it will be in Sofia this year. I really hope it doesn’t take another 15 years for the third one. But what I expect from the Sofia summit is to reaffirm the European perspective for the western Balkan countries and also to agree on very pragmatic projects linked with connectivity, youth, economic development, security and interior affairs, rule of law and human rights.

At the end of June there will be a Council on which the decision on the enlargement package and report announced from the Commission less than two weeks; but this is the proposal of the Commission and the Council shall take the decision.

According to press reports, a resurgence of refugee flows is expected in the summer. Greece and Bulgaria are the first host countries. Are you ready to face this new crisis?

For now we don’t see an increase of migrants and refugees in Bulgaria. But, traditionally during the spring and summer the numbers increase. I’m sure the situation is the same in Greece. But, till now the numbers are not increasing. That’s why it is really important for us, Greece and Bulgaria that the EU-Turkey agreement continues, because unfortunately the situation in Syria is still not calm and refugees are not ready to return to Syria. But it is not just refugees coming from Syria, it is also illegal migrants coming from other areas, central Asia, Arabic countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.

Do you think that we will have problems at the borders during the election period in Turkey?

I hope not.

Do you have open communication channels with M. Cavusoglu?

I have channels with Cavusolgu of course. If there is a problem I can talk with him at any time but, our interior ministry is in charge of these topics and I think that they also work very well with colleagues in Turkey./IBNA