French Ambassador: I Think We Collectively Made a Mistake When We Didn’t Invite Bulgaria to be Part of the Schengen Area
Exclusive interview of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) with His Excellency,Mr. Éric LEBÉDEL, Ambassador of France to the Republic of Bulgaria.
CAREER / PROFESSIONAL ROUTE:
Diplomat, Plenipotentiary Minister
Ambassador of France to Bulgaria since November 2016
Former Consul General of France in Istanbul, Turkey
Former Ambassador of France to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Vienna) and Former Ambassador to Finland
Languages: English, Russian, Spanish, German, Turkish, Finnish
1. What do you expect from the Bulgarian EU Presidency?
I want to begin by saying that it is really a big chance and an opportunity for Bulgaria to promote itself, to show its actual place in Europe and to prove that it becomes more and more central in Europe and less peripheral.
Our expectations could be summarized in three very simple words: realism, ambitions, and success.
And they correspond to your official motto which is the 3C: Consensus, Cohesion, and Competitiveness.
These key words mean: we have understood that your priorities are mainly the Western Balkans (stability in the region), Cohesion (solidarity between the EU states) and digital challenges. These three priorities are evidently shared by us, your friends, and we are ready to support you.
2. What do you believe should be the key areas of focus during the Presidency? Integration of Western Balkans, Cyber security? Or something else...?
In addition to these priorities, for us, Europeans, the priority of focusing on the future of Europe also presents itself; the necessity to have real reflections on what should Europe become. Why Europe fails sometimes as it did recently, what are the flows and the remedies and – how to rebuild Europe – the new Europe.
We, French, have mid and long-term views on this issue. President Emmanuel Macron expressed them very clearly in his Sorbonne Speech, calling for more sovereign, united and democratic Europe.
It has been described as being too ambitious and visionary with very ambitious and visionary views; but it has also a practical approach and there are elements in our views that should be implemented during your presidency.
I am referring to the so-called ‘’democratic conventions’’ and we are happy to see that Bulgaria is ready to participate. They represent big debates among citizens, NGOs, media, political parties, about what SHOULD be the New Europe.
During your Presidency, our reflections of what the future of Europe could mean will lead to a Europe that protects - in the field of defense and security. In the field of defense, this means that during your Presidency we are going to implement Franco-German proposals related to the permanent structure cooperation, to the European defense fund, to the European intervention initiative. In the field of security, we are going to work together on the European Intelligence Academy, the European asylum office and on the European border police force.
Another important field is the digital one. We are going to work together on Europe of Innovation and a possible Agency for Breakthrough Innovation.
3. Do you think Bulgaria is ready to join Schengen and what would be the consequences of such an action in your opinion?
I think we collectively made a mistake when we didn’t invite Bulgaria to be part of the Schengen Area. Now there is a chance and opportunity which presents itself to your country. The present Schengen is not perfect; there are a lot of flows. It should be corrected, improved and changed. We want Bulgaria to be fully part of the reflections on the new Schengen Area; on the Dublin rules migration, on the refugees and on the EU Agency for Asylum. And when, together with Bulgaria, we will establish a new Schengen; then of course, you will be fully part of it.
4. How do you find life in Bulgaria? For example do you feel safe from terrorist threats?
I knew Bulgaria a little bit before arriving here; I have been attracted to this country and never been disappointed by it, because of the pleasant life, challenging and rewarding.
I had the opportunity to go outside Sofia; there are a lot of things to do in the capital, but sometimes it is even more interesting to travel outside of it. It is an opportunity for us, diplomats, to learn the most about the country when we see governors, mayors, visit high schools, French speaking sessions in the colleges. That’s why I am trying to travel as much as possible and I’ve been to many cities in Bulgaria.
One of my favourite is Zheravna – one quite beautiful and impressive city, a little bit like Koprivshtitsa but even more humane.
I am also trying to learn your language and it is not that difficult for me to read and understand. However I find it still difficult to speak Bulgarian.
Concerning safety and security… No country in the world is immune of security challenges, and that’s precisely why we’ve developed a strong cooperation between French and Bulgarian services in the field of security, traffic, including the traffic of migrants, corruption.
5. How do you feel about the relations of your country with Bulgaria? And is there anything specific you would like to be achieved in means of cooperation during the Bulgarian EU Presidency?
I’ve been very, very lucky because a few months after my arrival, the President of the French Republic visited Bulgaria in August, and that’s the kind of a visit that any of the Ambassadors in the world are expecting because it paves the way for further bilateral cooperation.
Just as an illustration of this positive trend: in two months, the Bulgarian Prime Minister and the French President had four meetings; the Bulgarian Head of State Rumen Radev and the French President Emmanuel Macron met two times and six Bulgarian ministers came to France. And it will go like that at least till the end of your Presidency.
That’s why I am quite happy that I have been appointed here as an Ambassador.
From this derives what I call “a virtuous timetable”. After the end of your EU Presidency there will still be another event which will attract the Europeans: Plovdiv European capital of culture 2019.
We have a lot of common projects related to this event.
At the end I would like to say something about the two practical cooperative objectives which we hope to see implemented during your Presidency.
The first one is Francophonie. I would like to see March 2018 dedicated to Francophonie. We are going to work a lot, with our partners and colleagues from the Francophonie world, with other Ambassadors belonging to Francophonie, in order to have a very successful month dedicated to it.
The second objective is related to smart cities. We have a bilateral program between French and Bulgarian cities, which is working very well. It is called ECOOBCHTINA.
It helps designing smart and green cities in Bulgaria and in France. Cities like Gabrovo won twice in competition with 50 other cities.
I want this project to be continued and improved and it will be the case. This project is important because it is a way of coping with our common challenge: the climate change. It is a very practical way to bring our contribution. It also shows the interest of giving solutions at the level of the cities, at the level of the countries. This means that France and Bulgaria are already great, but together we can make our planet greater.
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