Ivaylo Kalfin: EU Must Focus Beyond Fiscal Indicators
Ivaylo Kalfin is a Bulgarian socialist member of European Parliament and a former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (2005-2009).
In the European Elections 2014, Kalfin will lead the list of the newly-formed Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV) movement, of former President Georgi Parvanov.
Mr. Kalfin spoke to Novinite.com about the upcoming election campaign, the challenges for the European Union, and the crisis in Ukraine.
What will ABV's strategy for the European elections campaign be? What sort of a tone will you lead?
We will try to direct the dialogue towards the essence of these elections – Bulgaria's representatives in the European Parliament (EP). The most important issue is what Bulgaria wants to achieve, what it can achieve, and how it can use the available European instruments effectively for the purpose, in order to improve the life of its citizens.
Do Bulgarians know the European Union and its institutions well enough and are they aware of what they will vote for in the upcoming elections?
I doubt there is anywhere in Europe somebody who knows in depth all of the EU institutions, even those of their own country. However, my view is that Bulgarians have a strong interest in what the EU is doing, as well as expectations from it.
Unfortunately, some politicians form their campaigns around the lack of knowledge of the citizens. They promise to go to the EP and raise pensions, salaries, open new jobs, and offer free healthcare. This is absurd, because the EU does not have these functions. In this sense, it is important to understand the European instruments and how they can be used for the benefit of the country.
Can the European elections be treated as a referendum for the current Bulgarian government?
In all cases, the general attitude towards the government will become evident in these elections. However, I do not think they will have a direct influence on the internal political situation, neither could they force early parliamentary elections right away.
Did you completely break your ties with the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)? What is the current relationship between ABV and BSP?
We are extremely tolerant and try to keep the dialogue focused on the essential issues such as the economic policies and the European policies. Unfortunately we do not see the same response. Instead there is repression and jealousy towards anybody who wishes to associate themselves with ABV. This behaviour has crossed all norms and we would like to see it reversed. They also owe an apology to the people they have repressed.
As an MEP, is it more difficult to defend the interests of a small country like Bulgaria in the EU compared to some of the bigger ones?
It is more difficult. Regardless of the equality which exists in the Council, different countries have a different influence. This is not necessarily based on the size of the country, but on what European processes depend on it, which is why Bulgaria must take more initiatives.
In terms of the EP, a lot depends on the personal characteristics of the deputies. Bulgaria will have only 17 MEPs from a total of 751, but it is important what their qualities are. If they have the trust and support of their colleagues, they will be tasked with important matters and have a positive influence.
What sort of a policy does the EU need in the coming years? What ideas or visions would you like to see passed?
The EU will experience changes in the coming years. We must be aware of that. In our campaigns, we must address what these changes should be and what role we want Bulgaria to play in them.
One such is the increased integration within the Eurozone. If Bulgaria decides to be an onlooker of this process, it risks falling into a second, even third category, and to be driven into the periphery. The country needs to set its preferred path clearly and to mobilize all its EP representatives to work in that direction.
What we would like to see is for the EU to stop focusing only on the fiscal indicators and the budgetary deficits of its member states, but to look much more into how it can use its own budget to stimulate states in tackling the acute social problems that persist. I do not mean simply handing out social benefits, but making structural changes that would have a lasting effect on youth unemployment and poverty.
Can the rise of the far-right across Europe pose a threat to these social policies that you are hoping for?
The rising popularity of the far-right movements is worrying not just for the EU's social policies, but for its overall existence as well. These formations insist on nationalizing the policies, on weakening and even getting rid of many European institutions.
I am very disappointed that in Bulgaria there are such political structures as well, which base their campaigns along this line. This is not in our interest. It is in Bulgaria's interest to have a strong and stable European family, whose rules to respect and to receive solidarity in return. The moment it leaves the European structures, Bulgaria will be exposed to pressure and attacks from the geopolitical interests in the region, which would cause immense damages to the country.
As a former Foreign Minister, how do you assess Bulgaria's position on the crisis in Ukraine?
I do not see a clear Bulgarian position on Ukraine, nor with what mandate the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister go to Brussels for taking part in the council meetings on the topic. There was a position drafted by the President Rosen Plevneliev. On the following day, BSP came out with a completely different stance. After that we heard various other parties' positions, but nothing unified resulted from all this. The Parliament proved that it is incapable of adopting one clear resolution on Ukraine.
Bulgarian parties try to act in a way to be liked by everyone. When they meet with the western partners they say one thing. Then when they come home they say something else to their voters. This is the most sure recipe for failure.
What do you attribute this to? Is it because the EU states themselves vary on their positions, or because of some domestic economic interests?
In the EU there are various positions on Ukraine, but they are clear ones. They have all been presented on council meetings, and I assure you they are clear. Bulgaria does not have such.
Like I said, the reason for this is that the politicians act in one way with the western partners, in another way with Russia, and then tell something even more different to the people back home. This has an extremely negative effect on our country's reputation and discredits it internationally.
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