Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to Georgia, Mrs. Dessislava Ivanova-Kozleva:
,,Dear (Deputy) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia,
Dear Ambassadors of the Member Countries of the EU,
Dear Head of the EU Delegation to Georgia,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have gathered here today on the occasion of the First Bulgarian Presidency of the European Union, the official opening ceremony for which took place on 11 January in Sofia, at the premises of the National Theatre, which is the oldest and the most prestigious cultural institution in Bulgaria.
As Ambassador of Bulgaria, I was wondering a lot how to start this evening’s presentation, having in mind the importance this Presidency has for us Bulgarians, and finally decided to start it by giving you a flavour of and making you aware of the atmosphere of the celebration in Sofia by referring to the welcoming speeches of the distinguished speakers, among which the President and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria; the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission.
By doing this, I hope to make you capture the spirit of this unique in the recent Bulgarian history event.
“On the 1st of January, we took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For 11 years now, we have been a member of the Union, but for 13 centuries, Bulgaria has been the South-Eastern gate of the continent. This is a historical experience we have paid high price for. We in the Balkans know very well that division breeds tragedies. Europe is too big to be monolithic and too small to be divided, and this is why the slogan of our Presidency is “United We Stand Strong”.” With these words our Head of State H.E. Mr. Rumen Radev opened the official ceremony in Sofia. He expressed belief that realism and solidarity are key for solving problems which are problems for all. “Europe is not just an economic space, but a space of freedom, deeply rooted in history, culture and humanism, and we should not turn our backs on this”, ended his speech the President.
“We have been given six months to make efforts not only for us – indeed, we have to be an impartial moderator in negotiations, but at the same time, we have to do our best for each Bulgarian to feel that the EU is there for him”, underlined in his speech the Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria H.E. Mr. Boyko Borissov.
The President of the Council of the European Union Donald Tusk expressed his high appreciation for Bulgaria’s focus on the future of the Western Balkans, and added that stability, security and prosperity is what the people of this whole region deserve. According to him, the EU's purpose is to help make this dream a reality.
“The Bulgarian voice will be heard loudly and prominently in Europe – tonight and in the next six months and beyond that”, said in his opening speech the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. He pointed out that the Presidency is taking place at a crucial moment when the European Union must deliver on a number of initiatives for our citizens and shape the Union's future.
Allow me now to go ahead and share with you the Priorities of the Presidency and what to try to explain what it means for Bulgaria:
No doubt, for us this is the first task of such magnitude that our experts have had to deliver on since Bulgaria's accession to the EU.
Secondly, the Presidency is also a chance for us to show a different side of Bulgaria:
- Bulgaria as the country, in which cohesion funds are bringing about visible change and contributing to year-on-year economic growth of 3.8%.
- A country, which is protecting the EU's external border as responsibly as any Schengen area member, without in fact being part of Schengen.
- A country whose currency – the lev – is governed under the same rules as the euro already decades and whose macroeconomic indicators are impeccable even though it is not part of the Eurozone.
- A country where different religions and ethnicities live together in peace.
We hope that over the next six months all our European and non-European partners and friends will get to know more of these multiple faces of Bulgaria – the “good student”, the “strong economic performer”, the “model for ethnic tolerance” and will have the chance to develop a fuller understanding of Bulgaria, and may even come to love it.
Allow me now to focus on the Priorities.
The three pillars of our Presidency Programme are stability, security and solidarity. We plan to achieve these goals by implementing three key principles: consensus, competitiveness, cohesion. We will work on 4 main strands:
o The European perspective of the Western Balkans,
o Security and stability for a stronger and united Europe,
o The digital economy and skills of the future,
o Economic growth, social cohesion and youth.
The European perspective of the Western Balkans
For Bulgaria, as a Balkan country, the future of the Western Balkans is naturally very important. But let me tell you why it should be important not only for us. There are at least 3 reasons:
- Firstly, it is high time to turn our attention back to our neighbours. Over the past decade, Europe has been hit by consecutive crises. This has meant that we have been focused on solving our own problems rather than reaching out to those around us. As a result, many of our partners, and especially those in the Western Balkans, have lost hope that their European perspective is realistic. They have even started looking for growth and development opportunities elsewhere.
Now the European economy is back on track. This is a chance for us to look to our partners in the Western Balkans and to reassure them that their European perspective is realistic. Of course, it requires a lot of work.
- Secondly, now, more than ever, Europe needs to be united. With one of our Member States about to leave the EU, and global challenges of increasing frequency and scope, our only chance of moving forward depends on our playing together as a team. We have already said that this team has a few reserve members. Why not start training with them now, so that they can be an effective part of the A-team once they join the game? To that end, we are organising a summit between the EU leaders and the leaders of the Western Balkan countries in Sofia, on 17 May 2018.
- Thirdly, Bulgaria joined the EU only a decade ago. We have very recent memories of what being a candidate country feels like. We therefore believe that we can be a bridge between the Western Balkans, and of course, the Black sea region, and the EU. A bridge that goes both ways – bringing the EU's messages to the Western Balkans and the Black sea region and ensuring that they deliver backwards.
A few words about our other priorities:
Security and stability in a strong and united Europe
The focus of our work in this area will be the reform of the Common European Asylum System based on the principals of responsibility and true solidarity.
We will work for strengthening of the border control, for more efficient management of the migration processes, for interoperability of the information systems, for practical application of the Permanent Structured Cooperation /PESCO/ and etc. In other words - with the aim to improve the security of the EU citizens.
Digital economy and skills of the future
There is no doubt about it – our future is digital and we all need to adapt to the new realities (hopefully not yet purely virtual!) However, the research data show that in certain aspects Europe is still lagging behind its competitors. This is why we must, without further delay, complete the work on the Digital Single Market as a source for growth and competitiveness in Europe.
We also want to make sure that our educational systems are good enough to provide young people with the skills that the labour market of tomorrow demands. For this, we will look into the future of the Erasmus+ programme, discuss how to modernise European education and make sure that we are providing an environment conducive to lifelong learning.
Economic growth, social cohesion and youth
Under this heading, we will work on the policies that provide the foundations of the EU's wellbeing and prosperity.
To boost economic growth, the Bulgarian Presidency will work towards strengthening the Economic and Monetary Union. We will prepare the debate on the next Multi-annual Financial Framework, gather ideas about the future Cohesion Policy post-2020, and steer the debate on how to modernise and simplify the Common Agricultural Policy /CAP/ after 2020.
Globally, even the biggest EU Member States are too small to stand up to the competition of major economies. However, when taken together, the EU's 28 Member States form the biggest economy in the world. This is clear proof that only united can we do more and do it better.
At the end of my presentation, allow me to summarize the main messages.
As rotating President of the Council of the European Union, we are aware of the big responsibility and expectations towards us. We will be a fair moderator and work on finding common solutions in response to the expectations of Europe and its citizens for more security, stability and solidarity. Our aim will be to create a strong, digital and united Europe through consensus, competitiveness and cohesion.
We will seek to strike a balance between the specific priorities of the member states and the strategic priorities of the EU with the aim to achieve real, visible results in active dialogue with the citizens and in response to their expectations.
The slogan of the Bulgarian Presidency – “United We Stand Strong” – is not only connected with our country’s history and statehood, but also as a follow-up to the Rome Declaration, it highlights the idea of a Europe, based on unity and solidarity. Because only united can we stand strong.
It is time to thank to the Estonian Presidency for its good work.
To recall that the Eastern Partnership is part of the Priorities of the Trio and we firmly support the sovereign choice of Georgian people and the territorial integrity of our host country.
And with a look forward to our succeeding Austrian Presidency philosophically to conclude that 6 months are long or short period of time, depending on the point of view and the legacy that remains after all is over.
Now I have the pleasure to give the floor to the person in Tbilisi to whom the change of the Presidency is – for sure - not a historic moment, but a work routine; Namely to the Head of the EU Delegation in Tbilisi – H.E. Ambassador Janos Hermann, for his words and perspective.
Dear /Deputy/ Minister of Foreign Affairs, it is honour for us to be here with us today. The floor is yours."