Interview of Bulgarian Foreign Minister for "Leaders and Decisions", SkyTurk

Zeynep Dereli: Minister Mladenov thank you very much for granting me this interview.  Actually, like everybody else in the world we are all wondering what awaits next with the uprising in Egypt and now in Yemen and of course what happened in Tunisia and what waits for the rest of the world in terms of what is going to happen in North Africa and the Middle East. But before we start talking about these issues, that you know quite a lot about, I’d like to talk about the European Union and Bulgaria. Because Bulgaria was actually supposed to start its, become a member of the Schengen scheme by March 2011 and there has been a delay which is understandable but the European Parliament actually said that one of the major reasons for the delay was actually the lack of border patrols between Turkey and Bulgaria.   And Bulgaria and Greece have started building a fence on the Turkish border but the Turkish government officials have been viewing it as a some sort of a sign from the European Union that they are building their borders now, and which they are not happy about. Could you explain to our viewers what the real reason behind this fence is and how soon you think Bulgaria will becoming a member of the Schengen scheme?

Minister Mladenov: Well, we are scheduled to be prepared to meet all the criteria for becoming a member of Schengen by March of this year.

ZD: Yes.

MM: After March, we expect that sometime in the summer the decision for the membership will be taken. And then, in the course of this year Bulgaria can join Schengen. We’re not building a wall on our border.

ZD: That’s how the Turks see it.

MM: What we are doing is, putting in a very complex monitoring system, which allows us to watch carefully if there are any illegal migrants who want to cross that border. And the reason we are doing it is because everytime that a country expands, Schengen expands, and a country joins Schengen, you see increased migration pressure on that border. What we want do to, we want to make sure our border is safe and this is in the interest of both Bulgaria and Turkey as well. We have very good cooperation with the Turkish authorities on border controls and we have some bilateral agreements that go back to many years and are quite effective. But what we need to do is make sure that everyone in Europe feels that the best that can be done is being done to secure the borders of the European Union. On the contrary, I hope that one day as Turkey becomes closer to the European Union, and one day if it decides to join the European Union that that border will change and that Europe will have a Schengen border with Iraq, Iran, etc. But this is quite some time in the future.

ZD: When you say when Turkey decides to become a member of the European Union, as a Turk I was really happy to hear that because a lot of people are thinking now that the process is, obviously the Turkish accession to the European Union has been very stalled and some people are maybe wondering if whether Turkey has turned its back towards the European Union, but who is to blame for it. A lot of people are saying that it’s not only Turkey but the European Union and the way they have been acting towards Turkey has kind of in a way deterred Turkey from making a bit more progress on the European Union accession. Hopefully we will see that they come but it’s very difficult to say where that is leading and actually according to the latest surveys in Turkey, Turkish support for European Union accession has gone down considerably and Turkish people feel now much closer to the Middle East countries and they would rather prefer to become a member of a union that is formed in the region. What do you think Turkey could do in order to renew its interest in the European Union, of its people in the European Union accession?

MM: Well, I think people in Turkey need to realize that the fact that Turkey has been negotiating membership for the last few years has been extremely positive for Turkey and for the opportunities they have had both in terms of human rights and media freedoms and then also economic opportunity. And I think that this is the process of negotiations in itself has been very beneficial for large parts of Turkish society, so one shouldn’t look at this in such a superficial, if I may say so, manner. This is obviously going to be a long process, and it is obviously going to be a very hard process, because Turkey is a large country, and its economy, its agriculture, its development is structured in a very different way from the structures which exist in the European Union, that are geared towards different type of organizing, whether it’s agriculture, or the development. So the negotiations themselves are going to be very complicated and very long but they are beneficial. And I think it is important now not to lose sight of two things; first is that Turkey can play an important role in the Middle East. It has a history, it has a tradition that is very closely linked to the countries and the people of the Middle East. But it also has a very strong tradition and it has a strong link to Europe. And this link needs to be preserved. And secondly, that we should not, its not, we’re too early in the negotiating process to say that we don’t like it or we should stop it or we should not negotiate anymore, because you hear such voices in both Turkey and Europe. I think that any decision on the finality of membership must be taken once the negotiations are completed. And we’re far from that stage at this point. So the negotiations themselves have been very beneficial, I expect that they will continue to be beneficial for Turkey to open up more of its society, to integrate it more closely. For people to realize, there is nothing in the traditions or in the workings of the European Union that is contrary to our own national traditions that we all have, whether we’re Bulgarian, whether we’re French, whether we are any other country. And I think that this is a very important argument which often gets often misplaced in the media and the noise around negotiations.

ZD: Well, actually hopefully this negotiation process will continue, but with so few chapters to go through and with most of them being blocked, that of course poses another problem, but I am a strong supporter myself of actually realizing the ideology of the European Union, which is unity within diversity and Turkey definitely adds a lot to that and Turkey has a lot to gain from it.

MM: Well you know the idea that Turkey negotiates membership with the European Union poses very important questions for both sides. There are very important questions that Turkey needs to address within itself if it really wants to answer the honest question of if it wants to be a member of the European Union. Quite similarly to the European Union, it wants to, it needs to address a lot of questions we have on our agenda; how Europe works, if we want to expand to include Turkey. But I think that these are very complicated processes. We are talking about, at the end of the day, we’re not talking about such a long period of time until now. 

ZD: Well, from Turkey’s perspective it’s been since 1965 since we’ve been trying to become a member.

MM: Yes, well since 1965 you have the agreement of the Customs agreement but these things take a lot of time and obviously they demand sometimes they demand people changing the way they look at politics, how they analyze reality, etc. But I’m not a great big fan of the idea that Europe will go in its own way and Turkey will go in its way and we will just be good neighbors. We must have much stronger links than that, we can work together much more effectively whether it is in the Balkans, whether it is in the Middle East, but it also means that Turkey needs to accept that if it wants to be one with Europe it needs to start doing things as they are done in Europe.

ZD: Yeah, well last October the Bulgarian rejected a proposal, a proposed draft resolution for a referendum on Turkey’s European Union accession, do you think that this might come up again in the near future? 

MM: I can imagine that it will, I hope that parliament will consider such a request very carefully. Because at the end of the day, we are all politicians and we need to be accountable to the people who elect us. Now having said that, it means two things. One, we need to respond to what public opinion is and listen to what people expect politicians to do but it also means that as responsible politicians we need to go out of our way and explain to people what the issues are at stake when such questions are being asked or when policy is being implemented in general.    But I think that at this point, this issue is not on the agenda of parliament.

ZD: Let’s talk about a project that concerns both Turkey and Bulgaria and actually the rest of Europe; Nabucco.

MM: Sure.

ZD: I was just reading in the news that our Turkish Energy Minister, Taner Yildiz, that when he was in Finland he made an announcement saying that Nabucco would become operational in 2017. And a lot of people were wondering whether or not this actually meant that there were going to be a delay in the project because it was initially announced that it was going to be commenced in 2015. But the European Union Commissioner had also announced the date of 2018 which was then corrected as it will become “fully operational” by 2018. There are now quite a few developments with the ground-breaking, hopefully agreements between Azerbaijan and the Nabucco project for the supply of gas, for the supply of natural gas and also maybe there is hope that Turkmenistan might be interested. What do you think the chances are of the project being realized and, because actually I believe, need 10-18 billion cubic metres of natural gas commitments of supply in order to start financing the project.

MM: Well, I think that this is a very important project not for just Europe as a whole but also for Bulgaria in particular, and this is why our government has been very keen to push Nabucco as much as we can. I myself have visited at least once the Nabucco Consortium in Vienna to find out personally the progress they have achieved. We have pushed through parliament the legislation which is needed to put in place to allow for Nabucco to be processed in fact there are no the only two countries who have fully paved the way for Nabucco are Austria and Bulgaria. And the other countries there are still things that are outstanding and need to be decided.  I wouldn’t’ get into a betting match about what would be the year in which the project becomes operational. I think that the important point right now is to mnake sure all countries can come togheter and secure the financing for the project.

ZD: Yes.

MM: So we can proceed to secure the supply side of the oil, gas contracts that need to be put in place. And obviously as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan are important suppliers. I think that Iraq is a very important opportunity…

ZD: Yes, Iraq of course. The Kurdish…      

MM:  We’ve had discussions with the government in Iraq and with the various other partners on how to link and whether its Northern Iraq or Central Iraq supplies to the future of Nabucco. As well as the possibility the linking of into Syria and into the Arab network that exists and that is being built. So this is a key project. What we need to do now is in order to secure the financing is to be quite open about how important this project is at the European level. And this is why our Prime Minister on a number of occasions has called for securing especial exemption for the financing of Nabucco to ensure that we can build it more quickly. And indeed, on Friday, at the next session of the European Council the whole discussion will be devoted to energy and both Nabucco, strategic pipelines that are important for our supplies, the liberalization of the European gas and electricity market, how we proceed with connecting our systems so that they become interoperational, all of these issues will be discussed at the top level of the European Union, literally in a couple of days. I hope that one of the messages that will come out of that meeting and at least this is what we will insist and we have argued very strongly, is that those projects that are part of the Southern Corridor, the southern energy corridor of Europe, should be prioritized. Because they increase our energy independence, they increase our security, and they provide most importantly access to new resources, which have until now, not been used to their full extent for Europe.

ZD: Well, actually Bulgaria is also involved with South Stream and a lot of people think that it is a competitor of Nabucco and find it interesting that Bulgaria is interested in, is part of both these projects. This is normally the point of view of the Turkish people, and now that we’re sitting together I would really like to hear why…

MM: We don’t see them as competitors, because for us we have two strategically important goals. One is to make sure that we have security for our energy supplies, we had a very unfortunate experience a few years back when the tap was literally closed off. And because we currently still continue to rely on one pipeline from one supplier we ended up having problems in the middle of the winter. So we need security. Security means two things; you have to have different routes for receiving your supplies and you have to have different suppliers to effectively diversify. So for us South Stream is a project which ensure there are different routes for which we can get our traditional supplies and Nabucco ensure that we have alternative suppliers that provide gas for our energy and this is part of our overall national energy strategy which looks at security, diversification, it looks at connecting our networks. One of the most important projects that we have currently on our table are the, is the Interconnector between the Bulgaria gas system and Greece and the Bulgarian gas system and Turkey as well as obviously with our other neighbors. And expanding our storage facilities so that if there is a crisis we have more stored in order to ensure and uninterrupted supply and obviously accessing new sources of energy. Whether this is more traditional at this point gas, oil, liquefied gas all going forward with an extensive project to drill for shelf gas in the Black Sea. So this is a whole range of priorities which we need to address but they all end up in two things, one is security of supply, and the other one is diversification.

ZD: I actually look at the game personally as a non zero-sum game.

MM: Yeah.

ZD: I think that actually we could all gain from all of these different projects if we can sit down and coordinate them better together. Which you actually just mentioned Black Sea and shale gas. And the Black Sea as a sea as not necessarily been a unifying factor in the past and how can we actually change that because Bulgaria is part of the BSEC, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and so is Turkey and all of the countries around. Now and because there is this thing that is between the European Union members of the Black Sea countries and then the non-European Union members of the Black Sea countries; how can they cooperate better in order to, energy and security, these are probably two of the most important issues that need to be addressed?

MM: Well I always think of the Black Sea, which people always call a region, I always think of it as the only region which is not a region.

ZD: Yeah.

MM: It is too diverse, there are too many different sizes, and traditions, and cultures around it in order to actually point to it as one region. However, it is a very important part of Europe and for us in Bulgaria it is particularly important. This is why we have identified three key areas for our foreign policy; one is the Balkans, our immediate neighbors in the Balkans, the second is the Black Sea and the third is the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East because everything that happens in these three regions immediately affects our country.  For the Black Sea, I think it is very important to focus on the cooperation where we can be successful, build on it and then get to more difficult issues that need more political will to be addressed. So for example, there is much things we can do for safety of shipping in the Black Sea. There is a lot that can be done on environment. There is a lot that can be done on facilitating trade and on the coastal areas or tourism. But there is also a lot that can be done towards cooperation on common threats whether these threats are trafficking of people or illegal goods, or whether it is fighting the threat of radicalism, which exists, or whether it is addressing very long standing conflicts which have been around for quite a few years in the Black Sea.

ZD: Frozen conflicts even.

MM: Yeah, frozen conflicts.  Transnistria is one.  But outside of these big security or political issues we that need to addressed, we can do far more to simply improve the way people live around the Black Sea and this is very important. I know that some people are very skeptical when one discusses Black Sea cooperation because they see it as an alternative or they say well this comes up to be seen as an alternative to integration into the European Union, etc. I don’t believe that that is true, and we’re making a strong argument in Brussels right now to focus some of the resources we have on our European Union Neighborhood Policy and use the priorities that have been identified in the Black Sea Synergy by the European Commission to set some of these resources for very practical cooperation along these areas in the Black Sea. So I think that there is plenty to be done. It’s a difficult region, obviously.

ZD: Yeah.

MM: But we should all recognize that we all have our different traditions, we have our own different histories, and just find what it is we can do together.

ZD: Hopefully, business facilitation and trade facilitation will actually make everything easier.

MM: Yeah, yeah.

ZD: And over time, obviously we shouldn’t be too optimistic but over times things might get much better in terms of political disputes but you need to start from somewhere and show to the rest of the countries around the Black Sea that every country actually has a vested interest in making this work especially with the new potential energy exploration production opportunities that are arising in the Black Sea and in terms of energy security. Let’s move down to the south. Let’s talk about what’s happening in North Africa and the Middle East, because everybody is wondering what is going to happen, is it going to be a domino effect, you know. What’s next, what do you think is going to happen? Is Islamic fanaticism going to take over the Middle East, like some of the people are claiming that it would?

MM: The broader question of what is happening in the Middle East I think we cannot answer at this point. I think the question today is, are we facing the biggest reformation of the Middle East. Are we going to see societies reformed in a way that people will have a stronger stake in their own government? The signals that there has been a problem have been along for a long time. In many countries you have had a quickly rising young population with rapidly rising unemployment among the young with a very limited tax base in many countries and if people do not pay taxes to support their government this creates for a detachment which is not good and the lack of opportunities has always bred more radicalism. In our policy towards the Middle East we need to put down some very important pillars, particularly now. And I’ve called for this in the European Union and our discussions very strongly. First, we need to say that governments need to become more participatory.  This is a condition that must be accepted by all; people need to feel more represented, they need to be more involved in their own government. Now I’m not going to tell each country how to do that but I think the answer is pretty obvious. Secondly, we need to see more observance of human rights and media freedom and civil society. I think this is very important for each and every country. Thirdly, we need to see more access to development and economic opportunity, again important for every country. And last but not least, we must be very clear that governments must remain secular and not religious based and as somebody who comes from Bulgaria, a country that has a Christian majority but also has its own Muslim minority, I think we appreciate very much that the sensitivity in keeping a society stable and in keeping society able to develop is able to keep politics away from religion. And for me this is one of the most important messages that we need to pass on to our friends in the Middle East. I don’t believe that we should be, I don’t have too much experience in that part of the world, to feel at ease on how to tell people how they should run their countries. I think that historically when outsider have tried to do that in most of the cases they have been wrong. But what we need to do is put down these pillars in our own policy so that we do not end up being surprised by developments sometime down the line. Egypt is a vastly important country, not to underestimate the importance of any other country in the region, but the stability of Egypt, the prosperity of the people of Egypt and the example that Egypt sets to the rest of the region will be crucial and therefore I think in the next few days, or hours, how quickly or how effectively the transition to a participatory government will take place, how effective and how quickly the army will be able to introduce security to the country will be the key questions. We’ve seen a lot of very scary things happening in the streets of Cairo but I think we have also seen very encouraging things. And one of the most encouraging things is that the people who came out to protest were actually young people, men, women, professionals and we saw in many cases how the Egyptian army and the people of Egypt did try to work side by side to bring security in a very difficult situation. And you know the example of what happens in the next couple of days will be vital for the rest of the Arab world.

ZD: Hopefully and maybe by the time we air this interview things might have changed. A lot of people in Turkey are of course wondering if Turkey can play as a role model for these types of countries because in the end we do have a secular democracy with a more Islamic leaning government in place, but indeed a secular democracy and we do hope the same for our friends in North Africa and in the Middle East to actually have more opportunities.   Because actually as I have been reading that in places like in Yemen the unemployment rate among youth is as high as 75%. We in Turkey are complaining because its 25% for youth the unemployment rate. That is a huge number and a lot of people really feel like they have no future in these countries and hopefully all of this will change.

MM: Well, look the Arab world, the way the Arab world looks today was formed at the end of the first World War. And at the end of the second World War it was transformed so today we face the question of will there be enough strength in Arab society to reform their societies in a way, respect more, they introduce more participation in government without giving up on some of the most important achievements which many of these countries have had until now and this is the ability to stay a secular state and in this Turkey can give a lot of examples, can share a lot of the lessons it has learned over the years of its own development, but again I would hasten very much everyone, Turkey included, from transferring what we have in our own history here in Central and Eastern Europe or your history in Turkey and transferring that immediately to the Arab world. We must be very sensitive to the complicated nature and the complex linkages which exist in Arab society that need to be finessed rather than hit with a hammer on the head. I think that would be very wrong.

ZD: Yeah, I think that, when you were talking I was thinking and wondering one thing because a lot of people are likening it to what happened in Eastern Europe in 1989 and that this might cause a domino effect and that a lot of the countries in the Middle East might have a change of leadership and a change of regime. What would that mean for energy security for energy markets of the world, that is also something that many people are talking about at the moment?

MM: Well just firstly on the comparison I know that a lot of people are making this comparison, I hasten to make it I think that the reasons why people went out on the streets of Tunisia or Egypt or any other country which is now in the news maybe we very similar but the circumstances in each country are very different.  Drawing an immediate parallel between the withdraw of the Soviet Empire, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Arab world now is very superficial. What that means for energy markets is you know again it raises the uncertainty; it raises the uncertainty for all who rely on in this part of the world. However, we may also in this time of uncertainty look and identify that actually in those countries with great difficulty and with terrible loss of human life and very hard problems for example Iraq, societies slowly but surely are being able to move away from dictatorship, under Saddam Hussein, into some sort of an agreement amongst themselves, and that I think difficult example, Iraq is a very difficult example and a controversial one to use, these days may actually point to the fact that democracy and stability in the long run are possible in the Middle East and if you look at our energy security that is one of the guarantees that in the long run will guarantee our supplies but this is a pretty thin argument at this point.

ZD: It is a thin argument but the more that we are talking about it the more I am thinking that including in the Middle East in the Nabucco project and finding ways to including Middle Eastern suppliers into the project are probably much more viable by then.

MM: Yeah.

ZD: Let’s see, let’s see. Let’s hope for the best.

MM. Inshallah.

ZD: Inshallah, exactly.

ZD: One of the very sad incidents that recently happened is of course the attacks in Moscow and the terrible loss of life and a lot of people are wondering what’s happening in the northern Caucasus and about the stability of the northern Caucasus. Here I cannot help but mention what your Prime Minister said, I was just reading in the news, because when asked whether or not Bulgaria was worried or not about a similar type of terrorist attack, he said you were not worried about it because you have a doner kebap shop in every corner, so you have very good relations with the Arabs. This was the...

MM: Well, I think what the Prime Minister was pointing to is very important and that is we’re not worried, we’re vigilant. And I think we should all be vigilant about the danger of radicalism coming to our own doorsteps. Part of our own strategy, if you wish, on how to address that is to develop strong links with all of our neighbors. And this government in particular has focused quite a lot of its attention and a large part of my own time as Minister of Foreign Affairs, is to rebuild our relationship with countries in the Arab world.

ZD: Which you are doing a great job actually, I was reading about that how the Middle Eastern countries are now praising Bulgaria’s efforts.

MM: Well, I hope that this is recognized but I also hope that this helps not just in our own ability to address the possible challenges that may come from this part of the world but also to identify economic opportunities that we can work together to try to fix. Indeed, our trade with the Middle East has increased in this time of recession and difficulty has increased by some 50%, about 50% in one year. So more interaction, more focus on understanding on what are the issues, what are the challenges, should be part of this overall context which we must create for each other. What happened in Moscow was a terrible incident, it was cruel and unjust and there is nothing that can justify you know taking human life like that. I hope that the Russian authorities will quickly identify those linkages that exist and that have allowed for this to happen. That they will pursue the criminals and the terrorists who stood behind it. But they will also look into the deeper reasons why such radicalism exists. And these are the deeper reasons that we all must be vigilant of.

ZD: Yeah.

MM: I mean Turkey…

ZD: We have suffered from this…

MM. Yea… knows this terror..

ZD: Of course… We are in a way, it’s really sad to say but we’re used to hearing about these types of terrible events taking place all around the country. It’s something that should be stopped at whatever cost there is.  Actually your being such a young minister, you actually were the Minister of Defense before so of course I’m sure our viewers are going to find it very amazing that at such a young age you had such a high, important post, but because you were Minster of Defense and now because you are the Minister of Foreign Affairs, one thing I would like to ask you about which is on a completely different subject, what is happening with the Wikileaks scandal. And do you think that these leaks are going to change the way which we conduct diplomacy from now on for good? Or is it going to have, I don’t know what kind of effects…

MM: Well, definitely. I think somebody said that Wikileaks was the September 11th of diplomacy.

ZD: Yeah, exactly.

MM: And it is extremely unfortunate that this happened. And I find it as extremely cynical because I can understand the importance of setting up a website through which those who feel they have been oppressed within their companies or organizations can stand up and put forward their case and put forward documents to show how institutions are trying to hide the truth from people. I can understand that there is a need for that and the whole understanding of transparency. But to publish a random collection of correspondence between embassies and a capital and to begin drawing conclusions on that for how policy is made is very dangerous. And the reason that diplomacy can function is that you can retain some level of confidentiality between governments and this is not aimed against people or against transparency this is how we all function. I don’t think that there is a human being around the world that would be happy to have their thoughts exposed to the rest of the world, let alone the internal workings of a machinery. I can imagine that people will be a little more careful in what they say and how they say it, and I hope that I actually I’m pretty sure, its been some time now and we have been convinced already that not going to undermine the credibility or the trust between the United States and its allies and NATO. And this is very important because our own security, as a country Bulgaria, as a member in NATO, the security of the whole western world relies on the trust that we have with the North Atlantic alliance. And I know that initially people were saying that this will undermine that trust, I’m very happy to see that this hasn’t undermined that trust.

ZD: That’s true, that’s true. Actually a few things that everybody has been wondering about is this random selection, as you have said, who chooses these, which ones are going to be released, because they have certain groups they are quite dissatisfactory for others, and what is the selection, what is the reasoning behind this so if you’re really serving the good of the people, if you really believe this is why you’re doing, then release all of the documents, why are you choosing certain ones and deciding which ones people should be reading. That’s one criticism that a lot of the Turkish media has raised.

MM: But it’s also the fact that if you read one and start making assumptions about foreign policy that is a very wrong approach. 

ZD: Of course.

MM: Because you know it gives you a very twisted perspective of how policy is formulated. Maybe one day when they are all out there people will sit down in universities and analyze and study and come to conclusions on how certain political decisions were reached. That would be quite useful. But the idea that you read two paragraphs and, between ambassador and capital, and you take them completely out of context and say well this is how policy is explained then you know, it’s quite dangerous.

ZD: It’s true. Actually once these documents were released, the Turkish foreign ministry their response was we are really happy that we don’t use any digital forms to communicate.

MM: Well, I will let you in on a secret, I was very critical of how some of my own telegrams were being written in my ministry but once these documents came out, I withdrew my criticism and said you guys are doing a good job.

ZD: Yes, being conservative in this matter has helped.

MM: It’s better to be conservative.

ZD: It’s kind of like Turkey now, with the financial crisis, we didn’t have a mature enough market for more mortgages so it was actually easier for us. Sometimes it helps too. Actually one of the other things that I’d like to ask you about is in Bulgaria is about the “good old days,” referring to the communist period. And according to a Pew poll, when asked about democracy, 76% of Bulgarians said they were dissatisfied, which to me, somebody who obviously comes from Turkey, is very difficult to understand.      

MM: I don’t think there is a lot of, I mean, I don’t think there is a lot of discussion about the good old days.

ZD: But in this poll that I read…

MM: Obviously if you were 20 or 30 in the 70s…

ZD: Yeah…

MM: …and you are 60 or 80 now you think of the good old days. But the dissatisfaction perhaps that people can feel is more to do with the slow rate of change that we have seen over the last few years in particularly. There were a lot of expectations from membership in the European Union would somehow immediately change a lot of things and it doesn’t.

ZD: And probably it came a very bad time, probably.

MM: Exactly, and change comes very slowly and then we had the financial crisis which hit all of us. To address this there is a lot of debate on how that should be addressed. By whether it should be by the government going on a spending spree or being fiscally very conservative and focusing investment in a more limited manner but where investment is vital. Our assessment is that the second option is better that we take the limited resources that we have, under the constraints of the crisis, match them with the funding we can access from the European Union, and invest in projects that will create infrastructure in the country and that will have a long-term affect for integrating the country better into its markets. And this is why a lot of efforts of the government is focusing on infrastructure; roads and things like that. Of course there is also the other side of things that a lot of Bulgaria’s development over the last 20 years has been delayed by the slow pace of reform and modernization in our judiciary. And this has led to you know all these stories about corruption…

ZD: This is what I was just getting at, actually I was just going to ask you about that…

MM: Yeah… and so for us, if you look at the, if I had to answer how do you get out of the economic crisis for a country like Bulgaria, I would say two things: one, is focus on infrastructure, where you can generate jobs for people, and second do these things that have been delayed for, you know, twenty years; reform of judiciary, security, more transparency of government, these things, making business easier, making the administration much more flexible and accessible to people.

ZD: Yeah, because actually last week was the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe that singled out Bulgaria and Turkey, along with other 6 states, for violating the European Convention on Human Rights, due to major systemic deficiencies.  So, I was wondering what these systemic deficiencies are in Bulgaria as opposed to for example in Turkey, because we talk about this all the time in Turkey about how we can improve it but you were just talking about it so..

MM: Yeah, well I would say that this is definitely one and this is are some and some of the to the problems stem from the fact that in the European Court of Human Rights we have a lot of cases that sort of repeat themselves, that go back to certain legislative changes that we need to do in our system and to make sure that we close loopholes within our own legislation. I know that the Ministry of Justice has put together a plan to address that; I know vaguely of it, we haven’t discussed it yet in the government session but they’ve already identified these weaknesses that they want to address.

ZD: As a last question Minister, what are the current state of affairs between Bulgaria and Turkey? I know that they are quite well actually but I’m sure…

MM: I think we have the probably the best relationship we’ve had for many years. We are looking at a number of common projects, I plan to come to Ankara in the next couple of months and we are working on having a joint session of our two governments to address issues which are of both bilateral concern but also issues in which we can work together in the Balkans, in sort of our wider neighborhood. It’s very important that we have this open dialogue between the governments and our two Prime Ministers to meet regularly and have a very good exchange of ideas on how we can cooperate. So I hope that within in the next three months or be the summer of this year at least we will be able to finalize a large number of agreements that have been on the table for a long time. We have done this with Greece last year and that was very successful.

ZD: Hopefully. Thank you very much for this wonderful interview.

MM: Thank you very much for coming.

ZD: I am sure the Turkish viewers are going to be very interested in listening to what you’ve said.

MM: Thank you.

ZD: Thank you.

Our Experience in Bulgaria Allows us to Help Our Partners in the Middle East
Western Balkans, Middle East: An interview with Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister/ 11.12.2010

 Държавна агенция за българите в чужбина