New European defence pact in the offing - the Bulgarian view

Photo: BGNES

On 13 November the defence and foreign ministers of the EU are expected to announce, in Brussels, whether their countries want to join the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the sphere of European defence. In the interest of this project, Germany and France abandoned their long-standing disagreements, and the preliminary accords between the two were joined by Italy and Spain. It is believed that besides them, around two-thirds of the EU member countries are also inclined to take part.

In Bulgaria, this issue has been a talking point for some months, not least because as of 1 January next year, Bulgaria will be taking over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, and, in this capacity, will be obligated to attend to the matter. Discussions on the common European defence inside the country can be said to be well advanced and concrete views on the matter have been taking shape.

A discussion “Together in security: The role of Bulgaria in the common European defence”, held in Sofia last month showed that, at this stage, none of the political forces in the country oppose Bulgaria’s joining the Common European Defence. In the words of President Rumen Radev, who is Commander-in-Chief of the Bulgarian armed forces, in today’s world, in which the other global players are developing their military might, the EU must no longer rely only on “soft power”. Advocating that the fragmentation in European defence be overcome, Rumen Radev cited data indicating that the EU has 176 platforms and 17 types of battle tank, whereas USA has only 30 platforms and just one battle tank, an approach that has cost the European countries 70 - 100 billion euro. According to the Bulgarian president, the EU can address this state of affairs by building an integrated defence industry, and Bulgaria which is next in line to hold the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, must demonstrate its approaches and its plans in this sphere, but also incorporate its enterprises and research institutes in the efforts to build up Europe’s defence capacities. Prominent representatives of the opposition socialist party agreed with the president’s opinion. Defence Minister KrasimirKarakachanov advocated the integration of the national defence industry and the academic community in this process, though he cautioned that common defence structures will see the light of day if “there is less talk in Brussles” of a multi-speed Europe.

Defence experts have been playing a crucial role in this discussion. Agreeing with the defence minister, they too are against a two-speed European defence, because – it is inadmissible to have different levels of security for the citizens of the EU in different countries. According to experts, Bulgaria must play an active role in the search for solutions, by choosing between the option of voluntary participation in common European defence without political or legal commitment, and the option of synchronizing defence planning and implementing common programmes. With the second option, the EU would play a much more important role with regard to domestic security and response to threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks, which is the reason why it is the preferred option. Some experts say that it would be better if Bulgaria focused on the commitments it has to NATO, rather than getting distracted by any new ideas. However the view is prevalent that NATO and the EU’s shared responsibility in the sphere of defence cannot be regarded as a counterpoint, but more of a joint responsibility. How the opinions on common European defence, expressed in Bulgaria to date will find a place in the European debate on the matter, it is still too early to say, but attitudes are definitely in favour of sharing the responsibilities for the security of the EU.

English version: Milena Daynova 

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