What Bulgaria Expects for Itself and the European Union in 2014
By Kristian Vigenin, Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs
As populists gather more and more support in several EU countries, the responsibility of politicians is to limit those trends and establish a truly European debate ahead of the European elections, writes Kristian Vigenin in an exclusive op-ed he contributed to EurActiv.
Kristian Vigenin is the foreign minister of Bulgaria. He was appointed in May 2013 and was before that a member of the European Parliament for the group of the Socialists and Democrats.
"Despite the challenges we are still facing, we look forward to 2014 with hope and optimism. This year there will be many events with great importance for the future of the European project.
The 2014 European Parliament elections, which are the first elections since the Lisbon Treaty, are scheduled to be held in May. They provide an opportunity to strengthen the democratic legitimacy and to raise public confidence in the European project.
Parties advocating populist ideas are gaining more supporters in a number of EU countries. Unfortunately, some of these messages call into question not only the European principles and achievements, but also the rights of the Bulgarian citizens.
The politicians and the leaders bear a heavy responsibility to limit these trends and to establish a truly European debate in the upcoming election campaign, not only in view of the rhetoric used, but also of the vision of the European Union and the ambitions regarding its role, including on the global level.
The results of the European elections to a great extent will determine the features of the other European institutions. The Bulgarian presidency in 2018 will also work with these new institutions.
Another important task for us is to deal with the consequences of the financial and economic crisis, which led to discontent, loss of confidence in the EU and alienation of the European citizens. And despite the joint efforts of the EU already paying off, we cannot remain indifferent to the disturbing trend of growing Euroscepticism.
The topic of the construction of a stable Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) has been and will continue to be in the focus of the rotating presidencies of the EU Council. The Bulgarian state supports the creation of a banking union as a means to improve the functioning of EMU, to restore the financial stability and to provide normal lending to the economy. Simultaneously, it is of a significant importance to ensure the preservation of the unity of the internal market and the financial services, as well as the full respect for the interests of the member states outside the eurozone.
The effective implementation of the new economic governance mechanisms in the EU and the Eurozone, as well as the balance between the fiscal discipline measures and those for growth and employment, are essential for the sustainable EU exit from the crisis. Together with the efforts to address the macroeconomic imbalances and to stabilise the banking sector, particular attention should be paid to the social consequences of the crisis.
2014 is the first year of the new financial framework. The timely implementation of the new operational programs is essential. Our ambition is the EU funds to be used in the most effective way towards reducing the disparities in the economic and social levels in Europe and achieving the utmost impact on the economic development of our country.
In 2014 the EU will continue to face the challenges resulting from the increased migration pressure. Our ability to provide consistent and timely measures and actions is crucial for coping with the security risks for the individual member countries and the EU as a whole.
Promoting the implementation of the Common European Asylum System and the development of an integrated approach to border management, along with increasing the preventive actions in third countries of origin and transit of illegal immigrants are extremely important. Bulgaria is committed to work towards establishing a more flexible and effective comprehensive approach to migration management, based on the principles of solidarity and proportionality.
2014 will give new impetus to EU enlargement. The launch of the accession negotiations with Serbia and the gradual normalization of the relations with Kosovo are a good sign for the whole region, serving as an affirmation of the motivational impact of the European perspective. We expect the countries whose progress towards the EU is still insufficient to demonstrate the necessary determination, courage and political responsibility and to take the appropriate steps for the faster expansion of the zone of peace, stability and prosperity to the whole region of the Western Balkans.
An important issue for us is Bulgaria's accession to the Schengen area and we expect to continue the active discussions on it with our European partners also in 2014. Our country has fulfilled all the conditions and requirements for a Schengen membership. Despite the economic crisis, the manner in which Bulgaria copes with the rapidly increased number of refugees last year, affirms that our country is de facto fulfilling all responsibilities of a country - a joint member of the Schengen area. Bulgaria will continue to work with its European partners towards achieving a positive decision as soon as possible.”