In an interview with BTA, Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ekaterina Zaharieva said that at the backdrop of Brexit and Euroscepticism, upcoming presidencies of the Council of EU, including the Bulgarian one that officially starts tomorrow in Sofia, must bring back the belief in the European idea. This could only happen through a dialogue that includes those who have lost their trust in united Europe. We must set the tone of discussion and start listening, Minister Zaharieva says.
Asked what 2017 brought to Bulgaria in terms of foreign policy, Minister Zaharieva labeled the past year as intense and successful. At the beginning of 2017 enlargement of the EU was not very popular in Western countries, but after we placed the Western Balkans among our priorities, they became a common cause for the whole of Europe, and Juncker, Mogherini and a number of European leaders talk about this. This is a great success because it is one of the few cases where issues of national importance for Bulgaria are subject to general discussion at the level of the European Union, Zaharieva says.
The biggest difficulty in 2017, according to the foreign minister was linked to talks on finalization of the Friendship Agreement with the Republic of Macedonia. On both sides of the table there were friends who were determined once and for all to open a new page in relations between the two countries. And it is already a fact - in the Republic of Macedonia for the first time elections were held, in which forces who lead an anti-Bulgarian campaign lost bitterly, she says.
The Western Balkans must be integrated into the European community. The countries in the region show that they are very keen on doing it, and we must show that their EU membership is important to everyone else. Naturally, they will be welcomed to the EU once they have done their job. Each of the six countries is at a different stage of progress on the path to EU Membership and needs to be assessed on the basis of its own merits, Minister Zaharieva says.
Asked whether the hopes for Bulgaria's accession to Schengen by the end of its rotating presidency were realistic, the foreign minister replied that she was not convinced that this would happen before the end of the presidency, but by the end of the year it should be a fact. This year Bulgaria will enter Schengen in terms of air and sea borders, and so Bulgarian citizens will be checked on the only Schengen border with Greece. There are still countries that believe the place of Bulgaria and Romania is not in Schengen, but in recent voting in the European Parliament, the number of skeptics marked decline. The European Commission has long believed that the countries should be members, and now almost all large groups in the European Parliament voice this view, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva added in her interview with BTA.
Compiled by Stoimen Pavlov
English: Alexander Markov