Bulgaria has achieved a great deal since it became an EU member in 2007, says EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In an interview with DW, he explains why he has such high expectations for its EU presidency.
DW: Mr. Juncker, how confident are you that Bulgaria will be able to "handle" the EU Council presidency?
Jean-Claude Juncker: Bulgaria is extremely well equipped; the government has even created a special ministry for the EU Council Presidency. Its minister, Lilyana Pavlova, is well prepared, as is Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. I am convinced that Bulgaria will deliver considerable results, together with Mariya Gabriel, who is already doing an exceptional job in my commission. Bulgaria is fully committed to Europe's agenda and has focused on the issues that are especially important to Europeans, like migration, the digital agenda, a European defense union and the future of the Western Balkans.
And besides, "B" does not only stand for Bulgaria, but also the Bulgarian word for future, "budeshte." The Bulgarian presidency will oversee the important debate on the future of Europe — and 2018 is the year in which we will launch groundbreaking changes for our bloc, like deepening the monetary and economic union, the future structure of the asylum system and the EU budget. Bulgaria will play an important role as an earnest mediator who unites Europe by seeking consensus.
European media are already very critical of Bulgaria's EU presidency even though it has barely begun. Two negative superlatives loom over the country: the poorest and most corrupt country in the EU. Does Bulgaria deserve this bad reputation?
Whenever I hear clichés like that, I always check the facts first. They tell another story — and not since the EU presidency. I know Bulgaria very well because I set the seal on Bulgaria's accession to the EU when I was prime minister of Luxembourg. Since then, Bulgaria has achieved a great deal, especially in the economy, which has grown 3.9 percent in the past year. The employment situation is improving and Bulgaria has a firm grip on its budget. The government debt is below 30 percent, which is very low, even compared to countries that already have the euro.
Bulgarian-Turkish border: "As a neighbor, Bulgaria can use its close ties with Turkey to intensify dialogue"
Furthermore, Bulgaria is one of the most pro-EU countries, so it has a very strong will to tackle problems head on and seek common solutions. That is why I have very positive expectations, not only with regard to Bulgaria's EU presidency, but also with regard to what has to be done to fight corruption. We are working closely together with Bulgaria in a type of cooperation and review mechanism and are closely monitoring progress in the fight against corruption.
Sofia has put its heart and soul into the rapprochement of the Western Balkans with the EU. How do you view the accession prospects of the Balkan countries?
Bulgaria has done well in choosing the Western Balkans as one of the priorities of its presidency. The countries of the Western Balkans deserve the prospect of EU accession. This will not happen during my term, but we must set the course and these countries must grapple with the necessary reforms to make it happen soon. The Bulgarian government has already taken important steps in this direction. Prime Minister Borisov's announcement to hold a Western Balkans Summit in Sophia on May 17 is an important milestone. Bulgaria is predestined to build bridges to the Western Balkans, as it knows the region, the culture and the languages and has itself successfully gone through the EU enlargement process.
Should — and can — Bulgaria take on a special role in the EU's communication with Ankara during the presidency?
Bulgaria can play an important role in deepening relations. At any rate, we are interested in working with Turkey as a close partner. At the same time, Turkey, which seemed to be moving further away from Europe, is now approaching Europe again. As a neighbor, Bulgaria can use its close ties with Turkey to intensify dialogue and act as a mediator and translator. It's always better to talk with each other than about each other.