28 May, 2023
BTA's Bucharest correspodent Martina Gancheva interviews the Bulgarian foreign minister during the International Crimean Platform summit in Bucharest
The participants in the first Black Sea security conference under the auspices of the Crimean platform in Bucharest (source: Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

BTA Bucharest Correspondent Martina Gancheva 

Bulgaria could join Schengen in the autumn. That’s what Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov said in a special interview with BTA. In his words, for this to happen, parliament would have to adopt two laws in due time – the one on the accountability of the prosecutor general and the one on the reform of the anti-corruption body.

“This is a necessary condition for Bulgaria to become a member of the border-free area. If it fulfils it, it will be accepted together with Romania”, stressed our country’s top diplomat. However, he hastened to add that if we delay again, there is a real risk of being separated from Romania.

Minister Milkov participated today in the first Conference on the Security of the Black Sea Region, held under the auspices of the International Crimean Platform in Bucharest.

“This is a serious tool that serves to channel policies, to prepare them in advance so that they can be considered by governments. Bulgaria actively participates in this platform because, in addition to allowing an exchange of ideas, it is also a powerful tool for supporting Ukraine,” the Bulgarian foreign minister told BTA. 

Below is the full interview with Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov with BTA in Bucharest. It is republished by the Bridge of Friendship with the permission of the author.

Minister Milkov, today’s forum in Bucharest is not about making decisions, but about an exchange of ideas. I heard you from the rostrum calling for a common approach to Black Sea security. However, we also heard Turkey saying that without Turkey, this could not have happened. What is your comment?

On the one hand, Turkey is a very important partner in the Black Sea region. It has done a lot in recent months to stabilise the situation in the region. I would like to underline here the agreement on the use of the Turkish gas transmission network to supply natural gas from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria. It also had regional significance, because we are able to export this gas further to countries in the region that need it. At the same time, only the collective approaches that we have within the European Union and NATO are productive and necessary for the region. Separate actions could not be productive, especially in today’s complex environment.

Also from the rostrum of the Bucharest conference, you said that Bulgaria will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary. What are the temporal and practical dimensions of this promise? How will we continue to help?

This is a common EU and NATO position, so Bulgaria joins this common approach to support Ukraine. As before, we will continue to support it, both with political means and with material assistance.

Does this exclude sending weapons to Ukraine? Can Bulgaria, following the example of countries such as Greece, give Kiev its old weapons in exchange for Western weapons? 

These are possible options that are subject to so-called triangular agreements. This is a possible option that I assume the Ministry of Defence could discuss at any time, both with our partners and with Ukraine itself.

Let us also take a longer perspective. What do you expect from the NATO summit in Vilnius? Will there be a concrete decision on a common strategy for Ukraine and the Black Sea region?

At the moment, a number of initiatives prepared for the Vilnius Summit point to such a decision. This could be the subject of a future joint declaration between NATO member states and Ukraine. And there the necessary measures and possible policies regarding Ukraine would be set out. NATO is not and will not be a party to the conflict in Ukraine, but at the same time offers Ukraine the necessary political and material support. 

However, I would like to draw attention again to this conference and add that I referred to some specific projects concerning our country which would be in the interest of the region, in the interest of Ukraine, in the interest of the EU and NATO Member States and in the interest of Bulgarian citizens. For example, the idea of speeding up the construction of the third bridge over the Danube in Ruse as soon as possible. It is important that such an appeal is made from here, from the centre of Bucharest, because we rely on cooperation with the Romanian side to make this happen as soon as possible. This is also laid down in our strategic partnership declaration, which the two presidents signed. These are also the issues related to the so-called sea-to-sea initiative to connect the White Sea ports and the Greek White Sea road network through Bulgaria to the Romanian coast. This is of considerable importance from a military point of view in terms of the possibility of quick and smooth deliveries. The project for an oil pipeline between Burgas and Alexandroupolis, particularly in the Alexandroupolis-Burgas direction, should also be highlighted here, which would make it possible to supply our refinery with oil from all over the world, so that it can operate. Our refinery is very important for the Bulgarian economy and for the economy of the countries in the region, because we export oil, refined petrol and diesel, to many of the countries in the region. And at the moment, a significant part of the oil that is already processed as diesel goes to Ukraine. The issue of military mobility in all its aspects has also been extremely important for us to raise. Military mobility is something related to the ability to rapidly transfer military units and equipment from different countries in the region. This also has a bearing on Bulgaria’s future accession to Schengen, because military mobility without participation in Schengen is a much more problematic option.

When will Bulgaria enter in Schengen? Will it do it together with Romania or separately?

The Schengen issue is already structured over time. We do not have target dates that have been formally agreed. We could predict that, if we do what we have to do as tasks on this path, Bulgaria could be part of Schengen in the autumn. All the diplomatic prerequisites for this are already in place. We have agreements with the European Commission and also with the Dutch side on what we have to do, to what extent, in what depth. For this to happen, however, at least two laws are needed, which must be adopted by Parliament. One of them is the now famous law on the accountability of the Attorney General, and the other is the law on the reform of the anti-corruption body. The so-called KPKONPI.  

My call has always been that these laws should be adopted, because, in fact, this is a necessary condition for Bulgaria to become a member of the Schengen area. If this happens, it will be together with Romania. However, if we have another postponement and, again, the two fundamentally necessary laws are not adopted, then there is a risk and no one could blame either Romania or the Commission if they proceed separately for Romania and Bulgaria. That is up to us at this point.

Photo: The Bulgarian foreign minister Nikolay Milkov was approached by a number of journalists in Bucharest (source: The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

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