The Western Balkans - a priority that earned international recognition

Iliana Iotova and Mario Monti during the conference
Photo: BGNES

The European Commission representation in Bulgaria hosted a conference on the future of Europe and Bulgaria’s prospects with the participation of Vice President Iliana Iotova, Lilyana Pavlova, Minister in charge of Bulgaria’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, Lyubomir Kyuchukov, Director of the Economics and International Relations Institute (EIRI) etc. Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy, was a special guest to the forum.

At the forum, Mario Monti expressed his support for one of one of the top priorities of Bulgaria’s presidency – this country’s readiness to be “the voice” of our neighbours from the Western Balkans within the EU. In his words, via the meeting on the prospects of EU accession of the countries of the Western Balkans which this country is to organize during its rotating presidency, Bulgaria can send a salient message to Europe. Other talking points at the conference included the future of the Eurozone and Bulgaria’s membership of Schengen, as well as the problems of migration.

Lyubomir Kyuchukov pointed out that the country’s accession to Schengen and to the currency union are key to whether Bulgaria will continue to be in the periphery of the EU, or will position itself in the union’s centre. To apply for the Eurozone there must be a series of meticulous economic, financial and social analyses on how such a decision will affect the country. It will be quite some time, however, before that happens. Until then we must focus on the fact that there are only two and a half months to go until the country takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. That is what made the statement by Vice President Iotova so important, as she outlined the picture of Europe today and the problems this country has to address:

“The EU of today is an idea come true, an idea belonging to many people, yet, unfortunately, we – the generation of the 21st century – are not up to their ideas or their ambitions, set down 60 years ago. People are not happy that we do not know how Europe will develop in the years to come, but at the same time there is no discussion of this development. A recent Eurostat survey shows that 80 percent of European citizens expect Europe to do more in the fight against terrorism. But if we focus only on security, we shall miss the fact that almost the same percentage of the public demand that other challenges be addressed as well – unemployment, social inequality, environmental protection, the fight against tax fraud. These are spheres in which people want to get a sense of how important the European project is. And if we don’t live up to the public’s expectations, the voice of the Eurosceptics will only grow stronger.”

It is a valid point that Euroscepticism is the result of the huge chasms appearing in European societies. In many of them there are people who are marginalized and this leads to social exclusion. The lack of prospects of development or a normal life pushes these people to radicalization, turning them into a new kind of “lone wolf” terrorists, with no connection to any Islamic organization. That is what makes preventing the terror acts they perpetrate so difficult, even impossible to prevent. To make Europe effective in countering terrorism, it must launch a long-delayed battle against the inequality plaguing all European nations. The European leaders, on their part, must rethink the idea of the infallibility of the policies they pursue and start governing as true statesmen, in the interest of the citizens of Europe, of their safety and prosperity.

Vice President Iotova stated further that the discussion of the multiannual financial framework has not broached yet and that is, in her view, a major mistake, as without a long-term vision of the union’s budget, there is no way lasting or sustainable policies can be pursued. The excuse for the absence of a debate the member countries give is Brexit and the EU’s uncertain future after Great Britain leaves the union. Iliana Iotova expressed the hope that such a debate will take place, after all, in the months from January until June next year.

This country is taking over the Presidency of the Council of the EU in times that are difficult and uncertain for the community, but it is precisely times such as these that bring out the leadership skills each country possesses.

English version: Milena Daynova

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