After the quadrilateral Balkan summit in Varna on 3 October among the prime ministers of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov, of Greece Alexis Tsipras and of Romania Mihai Tudose, and the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, a quadrilateral meeting took place in Thessaloniki last night in the format - Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia at a foreign and interior minister level. Over the past week we have seen Sofia’s Balkan foreign policy blossom in a veritable marathon of talks, in which Thessaloniki is but a stopover, not journey’s end.
A key element in the talks held by the foreign ministers of Albania – Ditmir Bushati, of Bulgaria – Ekaterina Zaharieva, of Greece – Nikos Kotzias, and of Macedonia – Nikola Dimitrov was the agreement they reached to intensify the dialogue by making the meetings in this format more frequent and by adding more ministries to it. The agenda of the next, third meeting in this format has been specified – cohesion policy and the future of the EU.
The participants in the Thessaloniki meeting held quadrilateral, but also bilateral meetings. Key for Bulgaria were the meetings Minister Zaharieva had with Albania’s Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, at which the official recognition of a Bulgarian minority in his country was raised, yet again. Bushati, an active participant in the debate on the draft law on the protection of minorities in Albania, gave assurances that the procedure of recognition of the Bulgarian minority will take time but when it is put through, there will be obstacle to their enjoying all rights set down by the law. At the end of September, the Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama gave similar assurances in a telephone conversation with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov; as did President Ilir Meta at a meeting with Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva in Tirana in July. The fact itself that Sofia is raising the same issue in Thessaloniki is an indication that this is a point on which the Bulgarian side is definitely worried.
Talking to Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, Ekaterina Zaharieva once again discussed the idea for Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Croatia, in their capacity of EU members, to organize a tour of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro together, so as to give political support to these countries’ European integration and to offer them expert assistance in the pre-accession process.
After the positive developments in the political relations between Sofia and Skopje, at the meeting in Thessaloniki with her Macedonian opposite number Nikola Dimitrov, Minister Zaharieva discussed the potential for closer cooperation in the economic sphere and investment processes. The two also talked about organizing another meeting between the governments of the two countries. At the migration, terrorism and organized crime debate at the Thessaloniki quadrilateral meeting, Bulgaria was represented by Interior Minister Valentin Radev, who expressed full agreement with the stated need to have a swift exchange of information among the various services so as to ensure an immediate reaction and prevention. Bulgaria and Greece have already attained a very high level of police cooperation, applying top European and Schengen practices for parallel investigations and joint operations and exercising effective joint control of the EU’s external borders via a bilateral contact centre for police and customs cooperation at Promachon and a trilateral centre with Turkey at Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint – this was the conclusion reached during Minister Radev’s meeting with the Greek minister in charge of public order and citizen protection Nikolaos Toskas. Ways to consolidate cooperation among the interior ministries, plans to promote cooperation with regard to migration processes and direct involvement by these ministries in the EU-Western Balkans meeting on justice and internal affairs scheduled for 26 and 27 of October, 2017 in Sofia were the talking points during Minister Valentin Radev’s meetings with the Interior Minister of Macedonia Oliver Spasovski and with the Deputy Minister of the Interior of Albania Rovena Voda. Bulgaria’s upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU, which begins in less than one month’s time, is one more reason why Sofia has been intensifying its efforts in its foreign policy in the Balkans.
English version: Milena Daynova