Special relations with the presiding member state

Carrying out a survey of Bulgaria’s expectations from the French EU-Presidency reveal two fundamental features of the EU debate in this country. On the one hand, it reveals that the country gradually found its way into EU structures, entered the policy-making mechanisms and formulated its national positions in all European matters. Many changes occurred in the perceptions of society and of politicians, and significant steps were made to mobilise public opinion and raise awareness of the rights and responsibilities of Bulgaria as a full-fledged EU member state. On the other hand, this survey makes clear that further serious efforts must be developed. There is still a lack of media analysis on these important topics. Articles published in newspapers and weekly journals are the most descriptive. Bulgarian journalists focus their attention predominantly on presenting factual information in combination with offering of different points of view, but without their own detailed analytical commentary on EU issues.
 
Bulgarian-French relations enjoy a rich history
 
The development of Bulgarian-French relations enjoys a rich history and exceptional dynamics. Common European interests unite the two countries and the partnership between them covers a broad spectrum of issues. The French parliament was the only one to have ratified Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty unanimously. As a francophone country, Bulgaria awaits France’s EU-Presidency in the second half of 2008 with high expectations. France is considered to be not just one of the founders of the European Community, but also a state with a long-term vision on the European project.
Significant action outside the EU framework can serve as an additional piece of evidence of amicable bilateral relations. A joint declaration on promoting co-operation between the Council of Europe and the “International Organization of the Francophonie” was signed by Bulgaria on May 24th, 2008.[1]
 
While describing France’s takeover of the EU-Presidency from Slovenia, Bulgarian journalists stressed the complex situation related to the negative Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the rise in oil prices. Several publications emphasised that since the beginning of the year, Slovenia has had to contend with a stealing of the limelight by France.[2] Major French announcements have often overshadowed news coming from Ljubljana. The declarations of the next presiding country’s officials dominated the media during the first half of 2008. Many experts suggested that important decisions concerning, for instance, the liberalisation of energy markets, were being explicitly left to Paris.
 
Discussion in Bulgaria on the priorities of the French Presidency began with the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy in October 2007. It testified to the intensity of bilateral relations. The two countries headed to a more comprehensive strategic partnership. Bulgaria and France outlined several spheres for co-operation in the EU framework. They have similar stands on the Lisbon Treaty, the Common Agricultural Policy, the development of a single energy market, the future of nuclear power generation, tighter co-operation in defence and on the European Neighbourhood Policy. Sarkozy stressed that France would make no distinction between old and new member states and promised that the presidency would very attentively listen to the problems and demands of Central and Eastern European countries.
 
In the observed period, several official meetings and public events for promoting the plans of the French Presidency are worth mentioning. The visit of the Bulgarian Minister of European Affairs, Gergana Grancharova, to the French capital on March 6th 2008[3] was important to clarify the common interests of the two countries in the EU. Her meeting with Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs , ranged over a variety of subjects, such as the situation in Kosovo and in the Western Balkan, the EU’s enlargement policy and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Ivailo Kalfin, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, also visited France and met with his colleague Bernard Kouchner on June 3rd 2008.[4] On his part Georgi Pirinski, chairman of the Bulgarian national assembly, headed a Bulgarian parliamentary delegation on an official visit to Paris.[5]
 
The visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev in France on July 4th was widely articulated in the media, in view of the fact that it will be the first meeting of Nicolas Sarkozy as French President and Head of State of EU’s presiding country.[6] In parallel to official press releases, which spoke of discussions on the proposed strategic partnership agreement during this visit, the overarching tunes of media coverage of this visit related to the urgent need of the Bulgarian government to secure a positive, or at least moderate, position of the French Presidency on the (then expected) critical report of the European Commission with regard to managing EU funds. Another issue that was tied into the package deal of this official visit was the purchase of French corvettes for the Bulgarian navy.[7]
 
Discussing French priorities
 
The international conference “Spring for Europe” offered a key opportunity to discuss the priorities of the French EU-Presidency.[8] The event took place in Sofia on May 27th 2008, and was organized by the “Robert Schuman Foundation” and “Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation” and the French and the German embassies in Bulgaria. Former French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, was a lead speaker at the forum. The conference was dedicated to the adaptation of Europe to the challenges of the 21st century, the future of the EU and the Lisbon Treaty. Speaking of the upcoming French Presidency, Giscard d’Estaing pointed out that Europe should build up a joint vision and approach to energy. He also called for the speedy adoption of the “Charter on Immigration and Political Asylum” in order to open the Schengen space to all East-European states.
 
The Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty became a key topic for debating the French Presidency in the Bulgarian media. Journalists’ attention was attracted to the question whether or not Ireland’s “No” would derail the priorities of the forthcoming presidency and overshadow France’s ambitious plans. Several publications highlighted that the Irish rejection of the treaty will very likely affect France’s term and break the rhythm in its operations.
 
The adoption of legislation on energy and climate change was confirmed as a key priority for France. Ecology and global warming, diversification and security of energy supplies are crucial points of interest for the EU. On this topic, Bulgaria shares the opinion that the different stages of development of EU member states should be a criterion in allocating the burdens under the ’energy and climate change package’. Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin outlined on June 25th 2008, that Bulgaria is taking on this priority. Noting that France has been supportive of nuclear power for years, he voiced his confidence that the issues of nuclear energy will be discussed more and more in the EU, striking a good balance between energy demands and environmental concerns.[9] The country needs additional financing to overcome the negative consequences of the closing down of units three and four of the “Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant”. According to the Minister of European Affairs Gergana Grancharova, European assistance for this process must continue after 2009 as well. On the other hand, French government representatives declared that their country is ready to take part in the construction of Bulgaria’s second nuclear power plant near Belene.
 
Agriculture will also dominate the agenda of the French Presidency. The selection of the topic is provoked by the emerging debate on the sharp rise of food and agricultural prices on global markets.[10] A proposal of the Common Agriculture Policy’s (CAP) health check[11] was launched as a result. However, the issue is just an aspect of the tricky theme of a more complex reform of the EU’s budget. The Bulgarian media noticed that current developments have strengthened the camp of CAP supporters. France and Germany are against the cuts in farm subsidies, while Britain is regarded as the key critic of the present arrangements in this area, declaring that all elements of the CAP that are designed to keep EU agriculture prices above world market levels should be eliminated. For France, agriculture is a delicate subject because the farmers in the country remain the biggest beneficiaries of direct EU payments. Bulgaria shares the same stand on preserving the current tools of assistance to the agricultural sector and rural development, without losing the prospects for direct payment.
 
France will also put emphasis on the drafting of the “European Migration and Asylum Pact”. The theme was discussed during the working visit of the Bulgarian Interior Minister Mihail Mikov, in Paris on June 25th and 26th 2008. He had talks with his French colleague, Michèle Alliot-Marie, as well as with the immigration minister Brice Hortefeux about the proposed pact and the introduction of the ‘Blue card’. Bulgaria has a positive attitude to France’s motion for working out such an important document and regards this as a step forward to the building of the European Union’s common migration policy. It also insists on removing restrictions to the free movement of the workforce among EU member states.
 
This topic is of growing importance to Bulgaria as a EU external border state. It has been transformed from an emigrant producing country to a country attracting immigrants. In the first year of membership, the number of EU citizens willing to work in Bulgaria grew considerably. The increased foreign interest is an accelerator for policy reform aimed at efficient regulation and monitoring of migration processes. A key objective is to attract foreign nationals to work in the spheres where the Bulgarian labour market experiences shortages. Simultaneously, the prevention of a ‘brain drain’ and the attraction of the Bulgarian emigrants back home, especially in the case of the young qualified workers, is a strategic goal of the state. Twelve of the 27 EU member states have already opened their labour markets to Bulgarian nationals without any restrictions, while the rest of the member states have introduced transition periods. However, the expectations that Bulgarians would flood the EU labour market proved incorrect.[12]
 
The EU’s security and defence policy will also be among the priorities of the French Presidency. Bulgaria’s position suggests that the guiding principle in the field should be stable partnership with NATO and the UN. Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin said that the sustenance of the EU’s defence capacity needed to happen without excessive competition, and in trans-Atlantic dialogue. French plans in the sphere are considered as an intriguing project that will provoke a lot of debate in the forthcoming months.
 
The Bulgarian media emphasised that there are additional fields to be addressed during the period of the forthcoming presidency. Universal access to the Internet is identified as a key target for France. The presiding country should focus on efforts to increase the spread of high-speed Internet across Europe and to boost investment in “Next Generation Access Networks”, the main infrastructure for broadband.[13]
 
Another significant task for the French Presidency will be to broker an agreement on a “Small Business Act” (SBA) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), considered vital to stimulating Europe’s competitiveness.[14] The SBA is regarded as an important initiative that should better integrate SME’s interests into European legislation in a horizontal approach. The Bulgarian member of the European Parliament, Nickolay Mladenov, underlined the significance of the forthcoming presidency with regards to the responsibility to reduce administrative burdens to increase SMEs participation in EU programmes and in public procurement, and to reduce obstacles to cross-border trade.[15]
 
France’s programme also includes a special vision for the development of the relations between the EU and its Southern neighbours. Despite the initiatives launched in the last years, the dividing lines between the North and the South haven’t vanished. The French project for a Mediterranean Union provoked bitter disputes among EU member states.[16] Metin Kazak, Bulgarian MEP, considers that it is important for Bulgaria to take active part in developing the plans for a Mediterranean Union. He underscored that the idea for the creation of a parliamentary assembly of the Mediterranean Union, with a separate secretariat and presidency on a rotational principle between the EU member states and the non-EU member states, would also imply enhancing political relations. Commenting on the French plans, the Bulgarian Minister of European Affairs, Gergana Grancharova, declared support for the idea of a Mediterranean Union. In addition, she expressed hope that Black Sea cooperation would also be a strategic issue for France. This topic also appeared in several media publications with special emphasis on the growing importance of the Black Sea region for EU’s energy, transport and trade policy, as well as on its role as the border with major strategic partners like Turkey and Russia. It became apparent that there are misgivings in the area that the French Presidency will overlook or even neglect the Black Sea region to the advantage of the Mediterranean.
 
Concerning the relations with EU neighbours, French officials stressed that it is very important for their country to use the channel of contacts between Russia and Bulgaria, because it is one of the paths to develop EU-Russian ties.[17]
 
In the context of enlargement, Turkey’s EU accession is a thorny issue. Bulgarian journalists drew attention to the statement of the French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet that his country would not seek to block the negotiation process. On the other hand, some authors commented that the project to establish a Union for the Mediterranean might in fact be a ‘trap’ to divert Turkish EU aspirations.[18] Bulgaria holds the position, in principle, to support Turkey’s EU membership. According to government representatives, a positive signal from Paris is the best factor for the reforms in Turkey to continue.

The French EU-Presidency is of utmost importance for Bulgaria, because its launch coincides with the European Commission’s monitoring report on the country’s progress in the reform of home affairs and the judiciary and in the management of EU funds.[19]


[1] Bulgarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs: A Joint Declaration on promoting cooperation between the Council of Europe and the International Organisation of the Francophonie was signed in Strasbourg, May 24th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[2] See: The new clothes of the President, January 22nd 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008); Six months glory, January 4th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[3] Bulgarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs: Gergana Grancharova: Bulgaria and France have many common interests within the EU, March 6th 2008.

[4] Radio Bulgaria: Foreign Minister Kalfin attends business dinner given by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, June 4th 2008; available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[5] Bulgarian Parliament: National Assembly Chairman Georgi Pirinski Paid an Official Visit to the French Republic, May 8th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[6] Standard News: Sarcozy Invites PM Stanishev on July 4th”, June 24th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).
[7] Sofia Echo: Bulgaria’s corvette deal with France back on the agenda, June 27th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[8] Radio Bulgaria: Giscard d’Estaing’s visit to Bulgaria, May 28th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008); European diplomats discuss EU’s future at the “Spring for Europe” conference, May 27th 2008; available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[9] Sofia Echo: Foreign Minister, ambassador discuss French presidency priorities from Bulgarian angle, June 26th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[10] Econ.bg: Food price spike to hit EU farming review, May 19th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[11] Radio Bulgaria: Changes in the CAP - responding to new challenges, May 21st 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[12] Radio Bulgaria: Bulgaria’s migration policy and the free movement of persons within EU, May 27th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[13] EU pushes for high-speed internet for all, June 26th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[14] French Presidency seeks strong ‘Small Business Act’, June 4th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[15] Meps back French Presidency on SME-friendly approach to legislation, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[16] Mediterranean Union – yes, but…, 14th March 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[17] Standart News: Etienne de Poncins: I’d like to see Bulgaria even more European, June 24th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).


[18] FOCUS News Agency: France pledges not to snag Turkey’s EU accession talks, May 6th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).

[19] Standart News: France to Discuss EC Report on Bulgaria, June 24th 2008, available at: (last access: September 2nd 2008).