September 19, 2018

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Bulgaria at the helm of the EU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By H.E. Ms. Maya Dobreva, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Bulgaria took over the EU Presidency on 1 January 2018. Bulgaria may be a young EU member state (last year it celebrated its 10th anniversary of EU membership) but is one of the oldest states in Europe – more than 13 centuries old. Rich with its ancient history, strong with its traditions and historic experience Bulgaria is willing to reaffirm its position in the EU and to play a constructive role in the EU processes.

Bulgaria is situated in Southeast Europe, in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula. It is positioned on the crossroad between Europe and Asia and has been а meeting point for different cultures. The centuries-long tradition of co-existence and interaction between different ethnicities, religions and civilizations is a wealth that Bulgaria cherishes and is proud of.

Bulgaria is the cradle of the Cyrillic alphabet and has played a crucial role for spreading of the Slavonic literature and culture. The Cyrillic alphabet has become a symbol of Bulgarian national identity and has been a major factor for preserving this identity over the centuries. Upon Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union the Cyrillic alphabet became the third official alphabet in the EU. Even though Bulgaria is not yet member of the Eurozone, the Cyrillic letters can be seen on every euro banknote.

The long history of Bulgaria was marked by many difficult periods, long periods of foreign dominance, but every time the strength and perseverance of the Bulgarian people has made possible an accelerated rebuilding and development of the state. Bulgaria’s remarkable capacity of catching up was demonstrated in the beginning of 20th century when the country became one of the most developed industrialized countries in the Balkans after gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire.

After the collapse of the communist regime Bulgaria has embraced the democratic values. Following a period of painful reforms and transformation of its economy and state functioning, in 2007 Bulgaria joined the EU. Bulgarians continue to be very pro-European, convinced in the benefits of the European project, willing to work for its preservation and further development.

Although still lagging behind its partners in the EU in terms of GDP per capita, Bulgaria’s dynamic economy, offering excellent conditions for doing business sets conditions for gradually increasing the prosperity of its citizens.

Bulgaria’s strategic geographic location serves as a bridge between the EU and the rapidly growing markets of Russia, Turkey, Middle East and CIS countries, placing the country in the centre of transit between these regions. The country provides educated and skilled workforce – 25% of the population holds university degree and 46% speaks at least one foreign language. Bulgaria has highly developed ICT sector and communication infrastructure, 4G is operational for a few years, the internet is available everywhere and it is third in Europe and fifth in the world speed wise.

The major challenges Bulgaria will have to cope with while at the helm of the EU, are quite diverse – the future of Europe and Brexit, migration and security, financial and social development, digital progress.

For six months Bulgaria will be the main driving force for the tasks on the agenda of the Union, it will perform the functions of an honest mediator, a political leader, a representative and a coordinator.  Our goal is to respond to the real needs of European citizens and turn challenges into opportunities.  

Today, Europe needs more security, stability and solidarity. We will work for a Secure Europe, because the migration crisis and the terrorist acts over the past years have shown how vulnerable we are;

  • Stable Europe, because the citizens want to know that the European Union is taking care of their prosperity and well-being;
  • Solidary Europe, because all member states are faced with the main challenges and they can be overcome only with joint action, not at national or local level.

How are we going to achieve it? Through consensus, competitiveness and cohesion.

We are convinced that they are fundamental for the future of Europe, and for achieving them one needs courage, political vision and shared efforts. The key to attaining our common goals is unity. It is not by chance that we chose “United We Stand Strong” for our slogan. This is the motto of our National Assembly and of the Coat of Arms of the Republic of Bulgaria.  This will be the slogan of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU 2018, which our country will follow in each action as rotational President. We will work for unity between the member states, as well as between the European institutions.

Tomorrow Europe will be what we make it today. Today is the time to build a stronger, more secure and more solidary European Union.  The citizens of the European Union expect from us to find concrete solutions to concrete issues.

The future of Europe and of the young people – economic growth and social cohesion

Economic growth and social cohesion are key to the future of Europe. There is some good news for the Union in the forecasts – the European economy is speeding up, more jobs are being created, investment is growing, public finances are becoming stronger. Still, there are some challenges – high levels of debt, small increase in salaries. We shall overcome these challenges together.  It is important that the member states’ economies continue to grow, it is important that all EU states participate in the debate on the reforms of the Eurozone as equals, regardless of whether they are members of the latter or not.  

The future of the Union is to continue the efforts for social cohesion. The Cohesion Policy provides a real added value for EU citizens and is a proven example of a working instrument for reducing the differences between us, which guarantees the success of the European model.  This is why our Presidency will work for an active and constructive debate on the Multiannual Financial Framework.  We are aware that the world is changing, and overcoming the challenges requires resources.  We are convinced that we have to look for a balance between the new funds and the already existing ones, between the financial instruments and the grant financing.

Security and stability in a strong and united Europe

Security and migration policies are some of the topics on which we need consensus and joint efforts. The Bulgarian Presidency will work towards long lasting and fair solutions in the area of asylum policy, for efficient policies for return and readmission, for a balanced approach between short and long-term measures aiming at the source of migration, not only at the consequences thereof. European citizens need security and stability and without these, European values are difficult to attain. This is why great emphasis in our efforts will be given to security, whereby we will focus on strengthening the border controls, on the exchange of information between the various bodies, and on prevention. It is important to work towards efficient, fast and fair justice.

European Perspective and Connectivity of the Western Balkans

When talking about united Europe, we should not forget that the Western Balkans need a clear European perspective and connectivity between them and with the member states.  The ambition of the Bulgarian Presidency is to achieve a clear action plan with each of the countries, without creating unrealistic expectations, but with concrete steps. This is the way to have long lasting peace, security and prosperity in the region. The goal is to provide connectivity to the Western Balkan countries – transport, air, energy, educational and digital.  Bulgaria invests consequent efforts in this direction, for example by promoting the digital policies of the EU among the countries in the Western Balkans through gradual reduction of roaming charges and by increasing the possibilities for broadband internet access.  

Digital economy and skills for the future

Europe’s role in the rapidly developing world is directly linked to the competitiveness of the European economy.  The single digital market, the access to innovation, the link between education and the requirements of the future labour market are at the basis of technological development. It is not by chance they are a major element of the programme of the Trio of the Presidencies – Estonia-Bulgaria-Austria and a priority of the Bulgarian Presidency. Electronic communication, providing transboundary services particularly to the SMEs, copy rights, e-privacy and cyber security are some of the items on the agenda that need to be decided upon.  Linking the education of the young people with learning “the skills for the future” is the way to achieve a competitive, flexible and successful Europe.  

The focus of all our action will be young people. We are responsible to them where we are leading our Union. They are our common investment in the future; they should be given the opportunities of education and development. Fostering early childhood development, modernization of the European educational systems and curricula, strengthening social inclusion through formal and informal learning – these are some of the tasks that should not be put off. Today, in the time of information and communication technologies, more than ever before it is a conditio sine qua non for these technologies to be widely introduced at all levels of the educational system.

Although Bulgaria is gaining popularity, the country remains an unknown place to be discovered. Apart from the numerous historic, cultural, architectural sites to be visited, Bulgaria presents a unique combination of varied natural beauties. The terrain is varied with large mountain massifs, fertile valleys, eternal meadows and a beautiful coastline along the Black Sea. Bulgaria boasts 200 healing mineral springs, making the country an ideal place for spa tourism.

Bulgaria will be in the spotlight in these six months and is eager to show the best of its capabilities, its potential, natural beauty, culture and historic heritage, as well its talents and creativity.

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Picture credit by  Valentin Nikolov 

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