Panel 2: The European Foreign Policy and the Bulgarian Perspective

Daniel Mitov, Minister of Foreign Affairs (Bulgaria)

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

Meglena Kuneva, Deputy Prime Minister for European Policies Coordination and Institutional Affairs, ECFR Council Member (Bulgaria)

Moderator: Vessela Tcherneva, Programme Director and Head of ECFR ofia Office (Bulgaria)

The discussion focused on EU’s Enlargement Policy, the EU-Russia relationship and migration.

With the five-year-no-enlargement rhetoric, some countries in the Western Balkans have clearly backslided. Nevertheless, there has been some EU-led progress in Kosovo, the context of the Macedonian political crisis, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Obviously not all is lost and hence the question becomes how the EU can reinstate its full leverage and credibility and reinvigorate its soft power.

In High Representative Federica Mogherini’s words, the EU first and foremost needs to transform the narrative of the 5-year enlargement freeze into a narrative of a 5-year timeframe to better prepare the candidate countries for enlargement. In this way, it will no longer be a matter of freezing but a matter of proceeding. What can make the European perspective more attractive is credibility. Enlargement is definitely a win-win policy but we need to figure out how to move forward trusting that the other part is really interested, otherwise the process will die. It should become clear that it is not logic of “give and take” but of “give and give” and “take and take.” Brussels needs to overcome the paternalistic approach and to realise that enlargement is of a common interest.

Minister Mitov highlighted that Bulgaria is looking forward to welcoming the Western Balkans into the EU. The key to progress in his opinion is more presence of EU institution and member states in those countries. They should perceive the process as European and not as something that develops on the basis of bilateral relations.

According to Vice Prime Minister Kuneva, to restore EU’s leverage and power of attraction, we need to be very concrete. Trust among partners is important, and we need confidence in the process. In this respect, it is perilous that we do not have a financial framework for enlargement and that some elements, such as science, research and development, and culture, are missing from the process.

In respect to geopolitical dynamics and the role of Russia, Ms Mogherini considers it worrying that for EU’s neighbours the predominant notion is that it is a matter of choice between Russia and the EU. EU’s agenda is not to build zero-sum dynamics in the neighbourhood. The attempt at going back to the spheres of interest should be fought against and the EU should try to rebuild the win-win framework of mind. Asking some countries to choose would be at the very least unsustainable and, in some cases, impossible.

Daniel Mitov explained that the attitude of trying to “understand” Russia is what has led us to the current situation. The EU should have seen the signs in 2008 with the conflict in Georgia but back then the Union chose to focus on its economy and not its values. Going back to the European values and being truthful to those is crucial for the EU role in the region.

In respect to migration, according to the HR, a realistic scenario requires to understand two things: firstly, this is an issue that is not going away; secondly, it is a common European issue that calls for a common European approach and shared institutional responsibility. The elements we need to consider in solving the problem include not only discussing borders and routes, but also seeing the influence of criminal networks and what happens beyond our borders in the countries of origin and transit.

Main recommendations from participants:

  • In relation to the Western Balkans, the EU should communicate its Enlargement Policy better as to avoid the currently dominant perception that these countries are not sincerely wanted in the EU;
  • Countries from the Western Balkans should be involved in intra-EU processes before accession. Candidate countries should be involved in the policy process instead of simply being required to align policies;
  • The EU should be careful not to perpetuate the narrative of democracy vs. stability – this narrative should not exist;
  • The EU should pay more attention to the foreign policy dimension of its relations with the Western Balkans – those states are not only accession countries but also partners.

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Watch the whole Panel 2 “The European foreign policy and the Bulgarian perspective” discussion here: