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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Remarks by President Jean-Claude Juncker at the joint press briefing with Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister of Bulgaria

Brussels, 8 November 2017

Добър ден (dobur den) – for those who are less fluent in Bulgarian than I am, that means "Good afternoon".

I had the enormous pleasure to welcome my good friend Boyko Borissov at the Commission. And I am enjoying the perspective to visit Bulgaria on 11 and 12 January. We had fruitful discussions. Thanks also to the Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel who is doing an excellent job here. And I am grateful to Boyko for having proposed Mariya Gabriel as the Bulgarian Commissioner.

Bulgaria is not a neutral country for me. I was the one who signed the Accession Treaty of Bulgaria back in 2005, because I was Chair of the European Council which is quite an interesting job by the way. I am happy that we had fruitful discussions today on different issues, of interest to the next incoming Presidency of the European Union, that is Bulgaria, and bilateral questions between Bulgaria and the European Union, thus the Commission.

I like the motto of the Bulgarian Presidency – "United We Stand Strong" – and that is true, and it has to be proven during the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU. Bulgaria will be the capital of Europe for the next coming six months. And it is a unique chance for this marvellous country, this great nation of Bulgaria to show, to prove, to demonstrate that the Bulgarians know what is what when it comes to Europe. Europe makes part of the DNA of Bulgaria. Since the very first day Bulgaria joined the European Union, Bulgaria is behaving like a founding member whereas other founding members are not always behaving like founding members.

We were discussing, as I said, different issues, and mainly the one which is known in Bulgaria and elsewhere as the "Sea2Sea" high-speed railway project. We are very committed, as Commission, to this project. I had a meeting the other day with Boyko and with the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras on that issue. I would like us to support that project and we will support that project by different means. Also the Corridor 8 project is very important; it is linking via railway Tirana to Varna, uniting in fact the Black Sea with the Adriatic. And we are also supporting, when it comes to our bilateral relations, the project underway connecting Bulgaria in a better way to Turkey.

Evidemment nous avons discuté entre nous la politique dans la région compliquée dans laquelle la Bulgarie joue un rôle central. Je voudrais réitérer ici ma conviction qu'il faudra que nous gardions ouverte la perspective européenne pour les pays des Balkans occidentaux. J'ai dit à de nombreuses reprises que probablement il ne sera pas possible de voir des nouveaux Etats membres adhérer à l'Union européenne d'ici 2019. Mais je voudrais que la perspective européenne soit comprise, non comme une invitation, mais comme une nécessité continentale dans les pays concernés que je vais d'ailleurs visiter à partir de Varna au cours du printemps 2018. Je me réjouis de l'idée que la présidence bulgare et le Premier ministre ont décidé d'organiser un sommet avec les pays des Balkans occidentaux en date du 17 mai prochain à Sofia.

Nous avons discuté de choses et d'autres, mais je laisserai au soin du Premier ministre de vous expliquer tout ce que je n'ai pas pu dire parce que j'ai voulu respecter la primauté du Premier ministre bulgare, mon bon ami Boyko.

Успех и попътен вятър (uspeh i poputen viatar). For those of you who are less fluent in Bulgarian than me: Good luck – and may the wind be in your sails!


Questions and Answers

Q1 Mr Juncker, something very important for Bulgaria on the eve of the Bulgarian Presidency. Next week Bulgaria will get the CVM Report. Do you expect this to be the last one?

President Juncker: The report will be very positive when it comes to Bulgaria. I was saying since the very beginning of our mandate that I am strongly in favour of having Bulgaria, and Romania too, acceding to the Schengen area. It will be done. The Commission is very clear on that. I said at the European Parliament: the normal, natural place of Bulgaria is inside the Schengen space.

Q2 [EN interpretation] You were talking about united being part of the slogan for the Presidency. Does this being united also include entering the Eurozone for Bulgaria?

President Juncker: When it comes to the euro, I am admiring the performances of Bulgaria. Bulgaria is a country with a budget in balance; Bulgaria is a country with a low public debt by comparison to others. The public debt has reached a level of 29% which is excellent. We have Member States of the euro area who are far beyond the level of 60%. Bulgaria has a public debt level of 29%. I was – during my recent speech on the State of the Union – not inviting the non-euro Member States to join as soon as possible – not tomorrow morning at 11:00 – but I was offering a pre-accession aid to those non-euro countries wanting and wishing to become Member States of the euro area. I have to say, bluntly like that, that Bulgaria is ready. And if Bulgaria is applying I will support this heartfully.

Q3 [EN interpretation] Security in the Western Balkans cannot be guaranteed without Turkey. Can you think about having other financial possibilities to support Turkey in this? I know that this financial mechanism which we already have runs out in 2017.

President Juncker: When it comes to this question of our relations with our Turkish friends, I would like to be very clear. We have promised EUR 3 billion to Turkey for the refugee programme and another EUR 3 billion to Turkey for the next coming years. This decision of the European Union will be respected fully. The European Council decided weeks ago to re-orient the pre-accession aid dedicated to Turkey. We decided today to do exactly that. We are not cutting the volumes we are shipping into the direction of Turkey but we are re-orienting them into the fields of judiciary, civil society and things like that. I would like Turkey and us to have the best relations possible but Turkey for the time being is stepping away from the European Union, its basic philosophy, its tradition, its ambitions. That is a choice Turkey has to make. I do think that some of the Turkish authorities are trying to blame the European Union for having broken the enlargement or accession promise. We are not doing that but we want Turkey to re-become European.

Q4 Is there geopolitical risk for the Bulgarian Presidency? We know what the geopolitical players are.

President Juncker: No, there is no risk because the Bulgarian government is very resilient. J'ajouterai une considération, mon cher ami. La Bulgarie est située dans une région ultra-compliquée de l'Europe. La Bulgarie d'aujourd'hui est un pays qui n'est pas consommateur de stabilité mais un fournisseur de stabilité. Je voudrais que tous les pays de la région fassent de même.

Q5 Regarding your strategy that you mentioned during the State of the Union regarding the successful accession of Serbia and Montenegro, can you tell us – does this mean that the EU's intentions and expectations are that Serbia and Montenegro will be the first new members of the EU? And will there be new members until 2025?

President Juncker: I did not mention in my speech Serbia and Montenegro; they are mentioned in the Working Programme of the Commission. Pay attention to nuances. I do think that the two countries – those you are mentioning – will be members of the European Union before 2025.


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