Romanian MEP Vlad Botoș: Bulgaria and Romania reached a strategic partnership too late
Vlad-Marius Botoș graduated in law from the Vasile Goldis University of the West in Timisoara. Professionally, he was associated with the private sector and became a manager in a foreign automotive company. He entered politics at the age of 16 as an activist of the Peasant National Party (PNȚCD). After joining the Union for the Salvation of Romania (USR), he became president of the group in Arad in January 2017. In the 2019 European Parliament elections, he was elected to the European Parliament on the USR-PLUS 2020 Alliance list. He is currently a member of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament.
This is the transcription of Nikolay Krastev’s interview, which was broadcast by the Bulgarian National Television on 11 April 2023.
Mr Botoș, thank you for accepting to be our guest on BNT. Mr Botos, where do Bulgaria and Romania currently stand in the EU?
Thank you for the invitation. It is a pleasure to be back in Sofia. Bulgaria and Romania embarked on this journey together with their accession to the EU in 2007. We are now fighting a common battle for our accession to Schengen and we need to support each other and stay together in this process. Even though the Danube is a major not only geographical but also cultural border between our countries, we must still rely on the strategic partnership between the countries and fight together for our interests in the big EU.
Mr Botoș, why were we late in building our strategic relationship? If you remember, your President visited Sofia 1 month ago and the declaration on strategic relations was signed then? Why only now?
You are right, it happened too late. Since the beginning of my mandate in 2019, I have been repeating that we must move together, we must have a common Schengen strategy that unites our countries and our presidents. I am glad that President Iohannis visited Sofia a month ago. But this also applies to our governments – unfortunately, there is no stable government in Bulgaria. We have now had our fifth election in a row and I hope that after these elections, which ended late on Sunday, you will have a government and we will build a strategy. It is very important for Bulgaria and Romania to join the Schengen area this year, because next year we will not have this opportunity. Next year, there will be elections in all 27 EU Member States and no one wants to put this controversial item on their agenda. It is in the interests of our countries to join Schengen this year. Otherwise, I expect a difficult period for Europe, but also for our countries, where extremists and populists will gain momentum.
Bulgaria and Romania are preparing to join the euro area. Are both countries ready?
Your country is on the line for entrance. You have a timetable and you should enter on 1 January 2024. Unfortunately, Romania does not have a target date for entry. You have to stick to the timetable because your currency – the Bulgarian lev – is pegged to the euro. You have had a fixed exchange rate for 26 years, since 1997. Romania does not have such a board. But after joining the EU, after future Schengen accession, the next step will be to join the euro area, to complete the integration of our country. I do not approve of comments by our fellow citizens who claim that we are ‘second-class’ Europeans. On the contrary, we are not ‘second-class’, we are EU citizens, but in order to complete this process, we must also join Schengen and introduce the euro.
Mr Botoș, a very important and popular project of our countries is energy connectivity. How do you see it?
We have seen over the last year that energy is a very important topic. We need to be very active in the next steps of the European Green Pact and the introduction of renewable energy sources. Even in this area, we can build a common strategy for common energy production – nuclear energy, which is currently considered green energy, but also renewable energy – solar and wind energy in the Black Sea. We can draw up such a strategy. But here we need to have a deeper dialogue with each other. I am very glad that today’s event was organised. I would like to thank Euractiv Bulgaria and ALDE Europe for organising the event. We need to have more of these discussions and interinstitutional dialogues between our ministers and our governments.
I am actually talking about gas connectivity between Bulgaria and Greece. Could this also provide new opportunities for the Romanian economy. What do you think about this?
I am not an unconditional supporter of the Green Pact. But we need to think more and more about renewables. It is good to have gas connectivity, it is quite urgent. But unfortunately the European Union will not invest in this type of connectivity in the coming years. I say unfortunately. As a member of the Committee on Regional Development, I fought hard for the inclusion of gas when we were discussing the Just Transition Fund. But unfortunately, this was not in line with the concept of the Commission and the Council, and especially the Commission. But we need to implement renewable energy projects. In the Black Sea, we need to think about wind energy, solar energy or other renewable energy.
Mr Botoș, regionally, Bulgaria and Romania are facing a common challenge – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What do you think about this process?
Our countries know communism and Russia, as well as Russian domination in our region. Again, I think we should have a common strategy to help Ukraine. Bulgaria and Romania have taken in many Ukrainians. We are the country that has taken in the second largest group of Ukrainian refugees after Poland. We do not want to go back to the past. The European Union is a project for peace, prosperity and freedom. We need our voice to be heard more clearly in this project. We must lead the project here in Eastern Europe. The European project does not end with the accession of Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia in 2013. We now have two more candidate countries, Ukraine and Moldova. The Western Balkans are also waiting. And we in Romania and Bulgaria can coordinate this programme. This will help the countries in their development. Because we are familiar with the disease of growth – how to cope after EU accession. If we had the current wisdom over the last 16 years, everything would be easier. But we can be a very strong partner for Ukraine, Moldova, and the countries in the Western Balkans.
Mr Botoș, what does Romania think about the threat to stability in Moldova coming from Russia?
Fortunately, Moldova has a very good and active president. It is respected throughout Europe, as well as in Japan, Canada and the United States. Fortunately, Moldova has a pro-European government. Two-thirds of the parliament is pro-European and the country is doing well on its own. But certainly Romania is the most important partner for Moldova. We will help it with everything we can – economically, with knowledge. Unfortunately, Moldova is not part of NATO. But they are our neighbours. They have a neutrality clause in their constitution. I think Russia will lose the war in the coming months. I am convinced of this because we have seen that Russia is not as strong as it thought. This is good for Europe, for our countries, because we can build a very peaceful and prosperous Eastern Europe in the years to come.
Photo: The Romanian MEP Vlad Botoș (source: Facebook, Vlad Botoș)
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