President: Bulgaria Has to Meet 4 Goals before 2018 Council of EU Sessions
Sofia has to set four goals prior to hosting the Council of the EU meetings in 20178, President Plevneliev has said in his Thursday address to Parliament.
These are, in his words: joining the Schengen borderless area, entering the transitional single-currency mechanism ERM II, joining the EU's Single Supervisory Mechanism and taking steps towards entering the EU's nascent energy union by pursuing liberalization, diversification and an inclusion into Eastern Europe's energy exchange.
Bulgaria is due to take over the Council of the EU Presidency in the second half of 2018, after Estonia.
Plevneliev has also outlined the main challenges facing Bulgaria in most areas of public life.
"In order for the investors to come, instead of the oligarchs, we need legal force and functioning regulators."
Commenting on recent scandals in the judiciary including problems with evidence disappearing from courts and questions over the system for random allocation of cases, Plevneliev insisted reform "will not be delayed anymore."
He added constitutional changes that could allow a wider reform of the judiciary had been discussed during his consultations, but those were longer-term goals and even without them the system could be made more efficient.
In energy, the President stressed that crucial improvements should include energy exchange and an electronic public procurement system were.
"The problem in Bulgaria's energy sector is the state and the way it acted until now... For years this sector piled up issue after issue on the financial stability of the state and turned into a problem for the national security."
"Now that Europe is building its energy union, we do not have the right to miss this chance."
He named three pillars of Europe's energy union that Bulgaria should attain: diversification, liberalization, and energy efficiency. "Everything else, [including] big projects... is just part of the means."
In Plevneliev's view, efforts to improve the situation in economy have started to bear fruit: "Let's hope we are in the beginning of a positive process."
Commenting on prospective reforms in education, he made clear he had achieved "consensus" with political parties that the introduction of a dual education system, adding vocational elements to schooling, should be an urgent priority.
Speaking of the Ukraine crisis, he repeated that only diplomacy could help solve the conflict, and that Bulgarians should not be divided between "-philes" and "-phobes".
The issue of boosting capabilities of Bulgaria's armed forces was also one he touched, though he stopped short of details.
But he warned Bulgaria was "obliged" to be a reliable partner to NATO and to fulfill its commitments, in an apparent reference to an increase of defense spending in line with the Alliance's requirements that was postponed by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov this year. The latter cited "lack of funding" as a reason.
"Security does not have a price, lack of funding is not a justification... Investment into defense is investment into national sovereignty and tranquility of citizens."
Electoral law was also part of his address, with the President reiterating his intention to put forward a referendum on voting rules.
Borisov himself was not present during the address. The Prime Minister is in Brussels on Thursday for a European Council session dedicated to Greece, Ukraine and various other issues.
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