(16-19.04.2018) One decade after its accession to the EU, on January 1 2018, Bulgaria took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For the months ahead, it will be chairing the meetings of the Council and be the main driver of the Union’s agenda.
The European Parliamentary Association took the opportunity to shed light not only on the country’s political priorities, but also on its history, culture and people, by organising a series of events in collaboration with the Permanent Representation of Bulgaria to the Council of Europe.
“A European perspective for the Western Balkans”
On Monday 16 April, the Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the Council of Europe, Katya Todorova, and the President of the European Parliamentary Association, Herbert Dorfmann, welcomed 100 guests to the Villa Schutzenberger for an initiative aimed at celebrating the country’s cultural richness. As guest of honour, the APE was especially pleased to welcome Her Excellency Liljana Pawlowa, Bulgarian Minister for European Affairs.
After an introductory speech of the Minister, the audience had the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and diversity of Bulgarian landscapes and cultural heritage through the projection of several short films. To this contributed also a performance of the pupils of the school “Petit Prince” from Varna, Bulgaria, who made all the way to Strasbourg to exhibit in an impressive demonstration of popular dance and singing.
Subsequently, guests were invited to visit an exhibition of a collection of paintings that the pupils realised to illustrate their understanding of the European project and, then, to discover several Bulgarian food and drink specialties during a reception in the association’s cellar.
On Wednesday 18 April, the APE took up on one particular priority of the Bulgarian Presidency i.e. the Western Balkans, and organised a debate on the topic “A European Perspective for the Western Balkans: The way ahead”. Guest speakers of the evening were David McAllister, German MEP and chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Andrey Kovatchev, Bulgarian MEP, quaestor and member of the same committee and Ivan Boev, lecturer of EU law at the University of Strasbourg.
Are Western Balkan countries ready to join the European Union? What restrictions are there? Which challenges lie ahead? These were some of the questions discussed throughout the debate. MEPs McAllister and Kovatchev clarified during their interventions that the criteria set out by the European Commission must be complied with and that there can be no short cuts to EU-membership. 2025 is hence an „indicative date“ and not an automatism. However, both sides, i.e. Western Balkan countries as well as the EU, have to foster a durable dialogue – despite any existing conflict – because such dialogue is of crucial importance to the stability of the region and the stability of Europe as a whole.
The closing event of the “Days of Bulgaria” was the breakfast on Thursday 19 April. Bulgarian MEP Andrey Novakov, expert on budgetary policy, focused on the “EU Budget after Brexit: a Bulgarian perspective”. “The EU budget is like a family budget. We should not leave unpaid bills and we just cannot afford to neglect the financial needs of our family members”, this was the message of MEP Novakov. The members of the APE then took the opportunity to engage in discussions about how and where to use EU funding effectively.