Bulgarian Presidency of Council of EU between high expectations and ... protests

Photo: BGNES

With a solemn ceremony in Sofia the first Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU has been launched. Ten years after joining the EU, Bulgaria receives the responsibility to coordinate the work of main bodies and institutions of an international organization without an analogue, to which 28 countries from the Old Continent have entrusted broad powers in the spheres of international politics, security and the economy.

The political elite of Europe come for the start of the presidency in Sofia. President of the European Council Donald Tusk, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, European Commission PresidentJean-Claude Juncker, all EU Commissioners arrive. The very next day after the opening, the Presidency will enter into a working stage with talks between EC members and Bulgarian ministers on the main priorities in coming months. In addition to the big number of topics on the agenda, they are also complex ones – Brexit; the EU budget for the new programming period; changes in migration policy; the European integration of the Western Balkans... The Presidency's responsibilities are further boosted by high expectations - for progress in the critical phase of Brexit talks; for an acceptable allocation of budget burden the UK exit would bring; for protecting interests related to cohesion policy; for progress on the path to European integration of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro; for normalizing dialogue between EU and Turkey, etc.

In the course of the prior presentation of its priorities, Bulgaria received solidarity assurance from its European partners. The Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Sofia, Emma Hopkins, commented that Bulgarians were very pragmatic people, especially when it came to Europe. They communicate with ease and ... make it easy for a conversation to end in solution, she added.

With a full understanding of the responsibilities the presidency brings, Bulgarian authorities are fully mobilized to deal with the tasks. They have support not only from the ruling political forces but also from the opposition. Even the fiercest opponent of the cabinet - BSP, said it would contribute to the success of the presidency because of its national importance. Support for the Presidency also exists among the general public. In 93 municipalities of the country various events devoted to it will be held. Today, in the "Ivan Vazov" National Theater in Sofia, there will be a gala performance including the Children's Choir of the Bulgarian National Radio performing the EU anthem - Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. After that the European elite will be welcomed with performances of prestigious ensembles "Yoan Kukuzel the Angel-Voiced", "Chinari" and "Bulgare."

But the start of the presidency is marked by protests that, although not directed against it, leave their negative mark.In a single day in front of parliament there will be a protest in support of the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, organized by the Alliance for Protection Against Gender-Based Violence; the Sofia Social Forum will be advocating for pensioners' rights; at crossroads in Sofia that the European guests will pass through, police trade unions will be calling for a rise in wages; there will be protests of citizens against the construction of a second ski lift in the Pirin Nature Park, as well as of citizens who support the project. Representatives of "Sovereignty of Bulgaria and the Countries of the World" citizen’s Initiative, whose latest meetings are taking place in the presence of the Russian flag waving, will also be demonstrating. Police are worried that these events will hamper traffic in Sofia more than the inevitable security measures. Judging by media reactions, the attitude to protests is rather negative. Monitor Daily informs about the additional security measures under the headline "We welcome Presidency of EU Council with 9 protests". "Standard" writes that some Bulgarians were obviously accepting the start of the presidency as a chance to voice their complaints. In today's "24 hours" the topic is found under the title "Protests at every corner during opening in Sofia."

At its start, the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU faces both high expectations and protests. However, reactions will be more important in six months, when the results will be known.

English: Alexander Markov

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