Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania, are poised to become the 26 and 27th members of the European Union in January next year.
Euronews correspondent Valerie Gauriat met Bulgaria’s President Giorgi Parvanov to find out how far his country had got with its preparations for EU membership. According to the president, the country is on course for accession. He says Bulgarians are making considerable sacrifices to achieve their goal of EU membership.
Euronews: Mr President, the latest signals from the European Commission are that Bulgaria is likely to join the EU in January. But probably with safeguard clauses. So does this worry you? and what would be the consequences of such clauses?
President Parvanov: We can definitely say that Bulgaria today has the same level of preparedness as the ten countries which joined the European Union in May 2004 had at the time of their accession. That is why we hope that there will not be any double standards, and that the same arrangements will be applied by Brussels as in the case of those ten countries. Safeguard clauses are a real concern, I don’t consider that they would be likely to be a motivating factor for stronger efforts on reform. On the contrary, they could tend to discourage the Bulgarian people. I would rather we sat down with our partners to find a good formula for cooperation , so that reforms can be carried forward from a particular point in time, particularly in areas which have been identified as deserving special attention.
Euronews: Precisely the areas of crime, corruption, reform of the judiciary, overhauling the health system, these are issues which are far from being solved. Is it so urgent to enter the EU rather than have more time to prepare?
Parvanov: Any further delay, even by one year, would disappoint our people. The agreements are there, and they should be executed and strictly observed, which is what everyone says in the EU. I can only agree with that. Let me give you an example: Bulgaria has agreed to close down two units of our Kozloduy power plant. Work is under way to that effect even though this decision wasn’t fair to Bulgaria and to the Bulgarian people. Therefore it is very important for Europe to understand and take into account the sacrifices and deprivation people are going through to meet their commitments. The European Union itself needs to make an effort towards Bulgaria’s integration.
Euronews: To come back to the energy issue: you mentioned the closure of the Kozloduy nuclear plant. When will this happen? Are you worried about competition from Romania in the energy field?
Parvanov: The fact is that Bulgaria definitely has ambitions in the area of energy, and would like to retain its position of energy hub for the region. This can be achieved in different ways. We want to develop our nuclear sector. We are building a new nuclear facility which will meet all European and world standards in this field. Also Bulgaria is working to achieve the status of major transit hub for gas and petroleum from east to west. Given an efficient and flexible government policy, Bulgaria will be well placed to keep its position in the energy market.
Euronews: You have recently signed an agreement with Russia and Greece on a new strategic pipeline. Russia seems to want the lion’s share, is that a problem for you? Is this agreement a sign that you want tighter relations with Moscow?
Parvanov: I should point out that this project has been in the pipeline itself for a long time. It is an integral part of the comprehensive European vision in terms of development of energy networks. It is not only an important project for Bulgaria, but it is also important for Europe which has no alternative in the field of energy. The issues of energy and energy resources cannot be solved for the continent as a whole, without involving Russia.
Euronews: On another issue and another country, are you in favour of Turkey’s accession to the European Union? Why, or why not?
Parvanov: Since Turkey is a neighbouring country, of course we have an interest in seeing Turkey go along the European road and eventually, in the future, become a member. I hasten to add however that to achieve that, Turkey needs, as has been the case with all other countries aspiring to membership, to take the concrete and difficult steps necessary to meet all the economic, political and other criteria required by the European Union.
Euronews: How about Macedonia? Your foreign minister recently asked Macedonians to stop “aggressing” Bulgaria, do you agree with him?
Pavanov: Let me remind you first of all that Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name. We have always supported Macedonia in its efforts to secure peace and stability. However when it comes to history, and we have a common history, I think there is a line to be drawn beyond which our own history cannot be stolen by anyone else. However I would say that these issues are best left to historians. We should put our efforts together and look ahead towards the future. Let us collaborate in that direction. Bulgaria is making progress already and hopefully in the future Macedonia will also join the European Union. This will be the best solution to the issues which have accumulated over past decades, and which may still be outstanding.
Euronews: Concerning the Middle East, you have decided to send troops to Lebanon. Why? And do you think this has influenced the European Commission’s decision on the accession of Bulgaria?
Parvanov: I would say that for us it is a moral commitment that we have to deliver on. Bulgaria by the way has participated in a number of international missions in the past, notably here in the Balkans. This shows that in addition to making a valuable contribution to the European Union in terms of economic and social affairs, Bulgaria has a good deal to offer in the field of security. I am talking not only in terms of the security of the European Union but in helping ensure security in other parts of the world.