Juncker: Bulgaria's place is in Europe
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his Council counterpart Donald Tusk led an EU delegation to Sofia to launch the Bulgarian Council presidency on Thursday.
Jean-Claude Juncker | Photo credit: European Commission audiovisual
Juncker said he wanted to see Bulgaria join the eurozone, saying, “You can count on us because your place is in Europe. And your place is in Schengen. And your place is in the euro. We will work for that.”
He said, “I am sure all Bulgarians here remember the clocks hanging all over Sofia and counting down the days to the country’s EU accession.
“Eleven years ago - in 2007 - Bulgaria joined the European family. But the process, of course, began well before that date. And personally, I feel to be a small part of Bulgaria’s remarkable EU journey ever since the day I signed the accession treaty in April 2005 - when I was Prime Minister of Luxembourg and holding the presidency of the EU.”
He went on, “You have to know, had I refused to sign, you would not be a member - so be grateful - I was in a good mood, in an optimistic mood, in a future-oriented mood, because for years as a Prime Minister and as a finance minister of Luxembourg I admired the performances of Bulgarian society, mainly of the modest part of Bulgarian society.”
Juncker said, “Bulgaria is a country I have a special affection for: for its people and for its culture. The presidency is taking place at a crucial moment when the EU must deliver on a number of initiatives for our citizens and shape our Union’s future.
Further comment came from Tusk who said, “As a Pole I understand well how much work, courage and determination it cost Bulgarians to achieve European success for their fatherland. No one gave anything for free.”
He added, “The history of the Balkans is more dramatic and interesting than the screenplay of ‘Game of Thrones’, even if there are no dragons in it. We would all like it if the present and future of the Balkans were less like dramatic screenplays. Stability, security, prosperity - this is what the people of the whole region deserve. And the EU’s purpose is to help make this screenplay a reality.”
Tusk went on, “It is a good thing that one of the priorities of the Bulgarian presidency is the future of the western Balkans. Who, if not you - the descendants of Spartacus, the inheritors of the oldest European statehood, you, who never ever lost a flag in any battle - would be better placed to rise to this important and exceptionally difficult task, that is to renew the European perspective for the whole of the region.
“You have always been determined and brave, which you have also confirmed in recent years, and this is why I believe that during the presidency you will be just as efficient as Hristo Stoichkov was at the World Cup a quarter of a century ago.
“With a Prime Minister who could strike fear into many a Thracian warrior, you will certainly make it.”
Meanwhile, the European Greens party has given its backing to public protests against the expansion of the Bansko ski resort in Bulgaria.
It said the Bulgarian government’s plan to expand the Bansko ski resort is “extremely worrying” as it will have a “massive” impact on the nature and biodiversity in the Pirin National Park.
A statement by party co-leaders Monica Frassoni and Reinhard Bütikofer said, “Due to the devastation that construction and logging would have, we stand with the thousands of people across the country who have taken to the streets to protest.
“The park is a Unesco world heritage site of outstanding universal value and is protected by the EU’s birds and habitats directive through the Natura 2000 network, offering a haven to Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.
“Despite this, the site has long been subject to tourism pressure, largely caused by the development of ski facilities. This development is often a consequence of a breach in the rule of law in Bulgaria, which has fuelled nepotism and corruption.
“We support Zelenite, our member party in Bulgaria, which is calling for a sustainable approach to tourism in the region. This includes the preservation of nature and a national strategy for winter sports that can be enjoyed by all, and not just a few private oligarchs.
“The European Greens aim to develop a circumspect approach to tourism policy: boosting Europe’s standing as a leading destination while at the same time protecting the nature that attracts visitors in the first place. We advocated for a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more ecological and sustainable tourism sector.
“As Bulgaria takes up its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, we urge authorities to ensure that any activities in the area meet all EU rules. It is essential that legislation is rigorously enforced to protect the park against any impacts from inappropriate development.”
MEPs will vote on a raft of energy proposals and debate the future of the EU during the first plenary session of the year, next week in Strasbourg.
The formal launch of Bulgaria’s EU Council presidency on Thursday was marked by a large-scale demonstration by thousands of protesters in the country’s capital.
The entire college of Commissioners will travel to Sofia on Thursday for the opening of the Bulgarian EU Council presidency.
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