Bulgaria: US, Russia Relations Revisited via Pipeline Politics
From New Europe
Rumiana Jeleva has in the past year been a Member of the European Parliament for Bulgaria as a member of the European Peoples Party –EPP, has then been appointed Foreign Minister of Bulgaria under the new Boyko Borisov government, and now barely past its 100 day mark, Foreign Minister Jeleva was proposed as Bulgaria’s choice for European Commissioner and has received the Directorate General and portfolio of International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. On the eve of the portfolio announcements by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Ms Jeleva took some time to speak to New Europe’s Editor Alexandros Koronakis about her career, her aspirations as a European and just how she sees the next 5 years.
A few months ago you led GERB to the European Elections, and came out with a clear victory and were consequently elected Vice President of the EPP group. From there, you went on to take the reins of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bulgaria. Was it your desire to become Commissioner from day 1? From before the European Elections?
Not at all. You see our parties, the new ones, are very young. We have a history of almost 4 years. Before establishing the party, our leader Mr. Borisov, was actually a leader of a civil movement with a focus against corruption in Bulgaria, and I joined the civil movement. A year later we decided to found a party.
Since 2007 I have been elected in all the European elections. Even in the last elections this year I was on the top of our list. And this was a concrete task for me. So I didn’t think at that time, even at the beginning of my political career that one day I would become a member of the European Parliament.
It was my very first political task and it was a very difficult task that I had, and have, to attend the process of forming the government in Bulgaria. It was not so easy but not as difficult as it was at the beginning in 2007.
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, commended Bulgaria’s efforts to root out corruption; and to end impunity for public officials amongst other things. Has Prime Minister Borrisov sent you now to clean up Brussels?
I don’t think that the Member States are sending nominees to clean up anything in Brussels. This is a task of the European institutions to intensify our work on our common projects in the European Union. But it was a very constructive and interesting visit to the States. Also the meeting with Madam Secretary Clinton was very interesting and very useful for me. As you mentioned, she expressed the support of the United States for the efforts of the new Bulgarian government and also of PM Borisov in fighting corruption and organized crime. But at the same time it was also very important to hear once again in North America, the recognition of the key role of Bulgaria in regional security issues of the countries in the Western Balkans but also from the Black Sea region.
There has been some vocal public disappointment over the election of President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy and the new High Representative, Catherine Ashton; as Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, had you hoped for something different?
As Bulgarians, we hoped for strong leaders for these two positions and also for a consensus. It is very important for us, for Europeans to have consensus among the Member States. It is difficult to reach solutions for every problem immediately.
Maybe it is to some extent a bit disappointing, but at the same time it is very important for the project but also for future of the Lisbon treaty and the European Union.
And as a citizen of the European Union- does your perspective change?
I expect to have now, after having these persons elected and these two positions filled, more efficient communication, between the European institutions and the citizens of Europe. We need more communication on our common values and also to try better to convince people of Europe, to share and also to participate in the EU’s initiatives.
Not many people would give up the position of Foreign Minister for that of Commissioner; do you have a vision for Europe?
Yes, I am a committed European, person and politician. I think it is very important for my country to have a strong commissioner, because of the fact that Bulgaria is one of the newcomers among the member states and there is a lot of work to be done in order to have better presence here in the European Commission but also among the member states.
What can Bulgaria’s experience teach acceding or those countries wishing to accede to the European Union?
We can share with them our experience, and also our mistakes, to prevent countries that are striving for European membership, from making the same mistakes, and to teach them how to use the European pre-accession support, pre-accession aid better than was the case in Bulgaria.
You are one of 9 women designated to be in the new Commission; how important is it that there is a gender balance and that in this case one third of the Commissioners are women?
It is very important to have strong women not only within the Commission but also within the European institutions in order to give a better chance to a half of the Europeans to be represented in the European institutions.
On energy; Bulgaria’s leanings seem to have shifted from being closer to South Stream to edging more towards the Nabucco pipeline. Can you give us a clear answer as to whether Nabucco is now more important than South Stream for Bulgaria?
Of course Nabucco is a European project, and many EU member states, but also EU institutions, especially the Commission, have expressed their interest in Nabucco. At the same time, as you may know, my country is among these member states which are almost 100% dependent on gas supplies from Russia and that are also depending on a special route through Ukraine. In this context I would say every project giving us the possibility to diversify routes and supplies is good enough.
Here I have to also mention South Stream, because it is planned as a project giving an alternative gas supply with a route through Ukraine.
Russia is reportedly raising the pressure on Bulgaria over the issue of the pipelines; do you fear that the backlash for the perceived favouring of Nabucco will be the Russians setting aside the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline and opting for the Samsun–Ceyhan pipeline ?
I don’t know the exact answer. There is no simple answer to this question, but in the context of Burgas-Alexandroupolis – because this is a project of interest to Bulgaria - there are concerns of people living on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria about the environmental aspects of this project. And these are actually also the concerns of the government of Bulgaria. If we succeed in guarantees for new technologies to be implemented in this project I think there will be an opportunity for this project to be carried out.
In the shadow of all these pipeline politics, is Bulgaria re-evaluating its relations with Russia?
Political relations with Russia are excellent. We have more than 130 years of diplomatic relations between our countries. At the same time, the economic aspect of all the projects, among them Burgas-Alexandroupolis or South Stream, is another question. It’s a question of revision and exact assessment whether Bulgaria can participate or not. The two issues have to be tackled differently and separately and I think that Russia is a very important actor, very important player, when we are talking about the common European energy strategy.
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