Bulgaria's president has spoken out after his French counterpart spoke of "clandestine gangs" of Bulgarian and Ukrainian migrants. French ambassadors to the two countries have been summoned.
Bulgaria's president on Sunday slammed French President Emmanuel Macron's remarks comparing networks of illegal migrants from Bulgaria and Ukraine with those from Africa working legally in his country.
Roumen Radev described Macron's remarks as "base and ham-handed."
He said the French president "has clearly stated his ambitions to become Europe's leader, but his ideas will be difficult to achieve if he expresses himself in such a clumsy way."
Last week, the right-wing French magazine Valeurs Actuelles published an interview with Macron who said he favored legal quota-based migration to illegal workers, contrasting Guinean or Ivorian migrants who work legally to "clandestine gangs of Bulgarians and Ukrainians."
The comments triggered an outcry in the eastern European EU member as well as Ukraine, where the Kyiv government summoned France's ambassador. On Saturday, Bulgaria said it would do the same.
Bulgaria's deputy prime minister and defense minister Krasimir Karakachanov demanded that Macron clarify his comments. "Nobody gives him the right to offend Bulgarian people," Karakachanov told private TV station bTV in Sofia.
Critics have accused Macron of playing up his antipathy towards illegal migration in attempt to appeal to supporters of far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen, who leads the populist National Rally party, recently declared that she would stand against Macron in France's 2022 presidential election. The pair faced off in the second round of the 2017 vote.
Macron and Bulgaria's leaders are due to meet soon to discuss the country's ambitions to join the Schengen area of visa-free travel and begin the process towards joining the euro.
mm/jlw (AFP, dpa)