Bulgaria’s delayed entry into Schengen, the country’s energy dependency on Russia and its efforts to counter the economic crisis – Prime minister Boyko Borrisov has been speaking to euronews in an exclusive interview in the capital Sofia.
Born in 1959, Borrisov set up a successful private security business before turning to politics.
He was mayor of Sofia before becoming prime minister of the centre-right government.
Hans Von Der Brelie, euronews:
“Prime Minister, the watchdog of free competition, the European Commission, has started investigations into Gazprom. Is the Russian gas supplier complying or not to fair competition in Bulgaria?”
“Bulgaria was one of the EU countries most affected by the gas crisis. Back then, I was mayor of Sofia. The temperature was between 15 and 12 degrees below zero. We spent 10 to 15 days without gas and no one helped us.
“We are assisting the European Commission with its investigation into Gazprom. Bulgargas and Bulgartransgas handed over all the relevant documents to the Commission a few months ago.
“Meanwhile we learned our lesson. That’s why we have now built a gas pipeline interconnection with Romania. The interconnection with Greece is at a very advanced stage and will be completed in a month or two.
“Construction work on an interconnector with Turkey and a link to Serbia is about to start.
“However, the greatest source of energy diversification for Bulgaria is the oil and gas deposits in the Black Sea.
“I am confident that Bulgaria will successfully diversify its energy supplies within three to four years.”
“I will rephrase my question: are you still backing the European pipeline project Nabucco or is Nabucco dead? Are you backing the Russian project South Stream?”
“I hadn’t expected this question, but as it happens, over there, on my desk, there should be a map. This map is an answer to your question.
This is Bulgaria, and here you can see how we will ensure diversification of our energy sources. Here lie the prospective gas supplies. This area will supply Bulgaria with gas. And there you have the Russian “South Stream” pipeline project.
“That is the Turkish Tanap pipeline and the Nabucco project, and the Asian gas coming from the Shah Deniz gas field will follow this route. My finger is pointing at what we are building at the moment.
“Why we are doing this? It is very important that the Turkish Tanap-pipeline reaches Bulgaria and that Nabucoo-West and the South East Europe Pipeline move closer to Europe.
“The other route, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, is a link to Italy, that is why we are doing our best so that both Nabucco West and the SEEP move ahead.
“Regarding the Nabucco project, Bulgaria has done all it can: the parliament approved its construction. We have signed all the documents that are required and we can start construction work tomorrow if necessary. I am looking forward to the launch of the Nabucco project.”
“Given that we are talking about geography, Bulgaria is very much exposed to Greece and its economic problems: What are the consequences of these Greek problems on the Bulgarian economy?”
“Greece is a good neighbour and friend.
However, the EU was very harsh with Bulgaria and Romania, but was very tolerant towards Greece. And right now, we are all suffering from this tolerance. The most important thing is to meet the Maastricht criteria, they have to be respected.
“What has Bulgaria done, so far, in the past three years? We have carried out a pension reform. We have increased the retirement age and frozen pensions and salaries.
“Our budget deficit currently stands at 1.2 percent, and foreign debt is at 14 percent. Inflation is at zero percent.
“The only other EU countries whose economic performance is anywhere near ours are Denmark and Finland.”
“So are you ready for the European single currency, the euro? Your finance minister just said that Bulgaria will postpone euro membership. Can you confirm this?”
“While Bulgaria complies with the Maastricht criteria and, along with Germany, adopts the deficit reduction procedures, other countries are not complying with these criteria. Why is that?
“What justifies such populism and nationalism against those who are on the right path? They should concentrate on sorting out their own financial problems instead.
“I expect this to materalize in the next year or two. Only then will we join the euro-zone. But I do not think it is fair for Bulgaria, the poorest of EU nations, to join the eurozone now and pay for nations who display such lax behaviour.”
“Your country is not a member of the Schengen area. Schengen membership keeps getting postponed year after year. Are you starting to get angry about this?”
“Regarding Schengen, what is good for Bulgaria is that EU member states know that the Schengen border is better guarded than in their own countries. Your citizens can sleep soundly, Bulgaria’s Schengen border is strictly guarded.
“Huge amounts of drugs are intercepted in Bulgaria, tons and tons of cocaine – 20 tons of hashish one day, 40 tons of cocaine another, three tons of cocaine the next day – altogether hundreds of tons of narcotics, and all of this just over the course of a few months. That is proof that we are not just talking but acting to crack down on drug traffickers.”
“Nevertheless, in its last report, the European Commission was very critical of Bulgaria, saying it was failing to crack down efficiently on high level corruption and organised crime.”
“If we look at the transparency of public procurement guidelines, then Bulgaria fares much better than other European countries. Regarding criminal gangs: their bosses are either in custody or elsewhere in the world under Interpol Red Notice.”
“I had a meeting with the former prime minister of Bulgaria and current opposition leader, Mr Stanishev. He said he had serious fears about the upcoming elections following accusations of vote-buying in recent local elections.”
“He has reason to be afraid because we caught his party in Sliven doing exactly that: buying votes.
“Now, he is thinking ahead about how he can defend himself when he looses the upcoming elections once again.”
“The transition period in Bulgaria was very difficult, you have a very colourful past. Do you personally know anyone involved in organised crime?”
“I have an excellent past record. These are inventions by Mr Stanishev and his accomplices.”
“All of my movements and actions are transparent and I don’t depend on anyone.”