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News conference by Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov in regard to the decision by the Dutch government about Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen zone

17 September 2011 News

Yesterday's decision by the Dutch government ignores the fact that Romania and Bulgaria have fulfilled all the criteria for our countries to join Schengen. This has been confirmed by the European Commission and categorically by all member states, the Netherlands included. Yesterday's decision is clearly linked to internal political differences within the ruling coalition in the Netherlands. It off-handedly ignores the excellent level of co-operation between the two countries in law enforcement. This co-operation is essential and important for crime prevention in Europe, both in Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed a policy that can only be described as a refusal of dialogue. At the last moment the invitation for a hearing of Bulgaria on the Schengen issue was cancelled by the Dutch Parliament. This refusal is incomprehensible to me, because I think that within the EU the most basic element in resolving a situation is dialogue. Ultimately, the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen will serve not only to improve the security of, and opportunities for, our own citizens but also will enhance security and opportunities for all EU citizens.
I do not think that a link can be found between the implementation of the Schengen acquis in Bulgaria and any other topic on the agenda of the EU. This is why I cannot accept the statement by the Netherlands yesterday, the opinion that on the one hand, criteria are met, but on the other hand there are some other interpretations, which must be taken into account, such as are to be found in the coalition agreement in their country.
Bulgarian citizens are not second-class citizens in Europe, nor is Bulgaria's EU membership second-hand. Such behaviour does not create a good precedent, but on the contrary, is a violation of the practice established in the EU in recent years, of seeking consensus on an agreement acceptable to all parties.
Therefore, Bulgaria will continue to work in the coming weeks to find a consensus on such an agreement within the EU, which meets the interests of our country, those of the people of Bulgaria, and of course at the same time takes into account the interests of Dutch nationals, the Dutch government and of all who want to participate in this dialogue. But it must be dialogue.
The most important step, a meeting of interior ministers of the EU, will be held on September 22. We hope that there proposals made and the initiatives taken by the Polish EU presidency will be taken into account and will become the basis of seeking agreement among our countries. I think that it is very important to reiterate that everyone in Bulgaria realises that when we entered the EU, we voluntarily agreed to obey legislation that is applicable throughout the EU, while our fellow member states that agreed to the acceptance of Bulgaria into the EU, that we have a legal commitment and right to enter Schengen once we have fulfilled the criteria.
The European Council decided some time ago that in September this year a new meeting should be convened at which to decide on the mechanism by which Bulgaria and Romania will join Schengen. This decision must be taken on September 22, at the meeting of interior ministers of member states. I hope that all countries in Europe, with which we have excellent co-operation, will take into account not only the intentions, but also the results to date, as achieved in terms of co-operation in justice and home affairs, particularly with regard to the security of Bulgarian air, sea and land borders.
Bulgaria's participation in the Schengen Information System, and the inclusion of Bulgaria in the Schengen area, will enhance security in Europe, because it will enable very strict control over who enters the EU and how they move around within it. Non-participation of Bulgaria in the Schengen area, its non-participation in the Schengen Information System, will only heighten the risks to Schengen countries, because we can only register illegal immigrants, see how they appear at our borders, see that they are on the EU’s lists, but we cannot respond. That is why I believe that it is in everyone's interest and the long-term interest of Europe, to work together on the security of European borders.
Of course, if on September 22 a reasonable solution is achieved, that meets the interests of all ofEurope and especially the best interests of Bulgarian citizens, we will support the reform of the Schengen acquis in the EU. If, however, no such decision is taken, we shall need to carefully consider our entire policy from now on regarding the support we give to the reform of European legislation on Schengen. Because ultimately the rules are written to be complied with.
The biggest problem in Europe currently, the financial and economic crisis spreading in the EU, is the result of non-compliance. Bulgaria is a country that respects the rules and has proved this, whether in the field of border control, in the field of financial discipline, or in co-operation with our partners. Again, all this co-operation, all this goodwill on the part of our country, is based on our understanding that we must protect the interests of Bulgarian citizens in a European manner, including taking into account the defence of its own position and the views of other countries . This is the approach that we have perceived so far, this is the approach which we shall have until September 22 meeting, when hopefully a reasonable way will be found out of this situation, given the recent statements of the Government of the Netherlands.
If you have questions, please go ahead.
TV7: If the September 22 decision is again negative, what will follow, what are your expectations, any timing?
Nickolay Mladenov: I do not want to speculate about what the decision on September 22 will be, because I think the European approach is to leave space for the Polish presidency to seek abasis for a consensus that could be achieved and for all positions to be expressed at this meeting . Of course, this is a meeting of interior ministers, which will take all arguments into account when considering the options. If a decision is not reached on September 22, there is a meeting of the European Council, so the process may not end on September 22, although our desire is – after all assessments have been submitted and are positive – that no additional stumbling blocks are created and the process is completed on that date.
AFP: Mr. Mladenov, does the Dutch position seem reversible? I had the impression that this is a decision by the Dutch government that will remain the same at the meeting on September 22.
Nickolay Mladenov: I repeat, we are familiar in detail with the Dutch government decision yesterday, but ultimately I think that the European approach – if we truly believe that the rules are the same for all –  must mean a search for possible consensus, for possible agreement among all EU member states, because otherwise the impression will be left that the interests and views of one, the quality and nationality of one, are different from the quality and nationality of another. This is something that Bulgaria will not allow.
TV7: A question about the forthcoming session of the UN. What is the Bulgarian position on Palestinian independence?
Nickolay Mladenov: This morning I had a meeting with the Palestinian Ambassador and ambassadors of the Arab League and African Union. We discussed the situation and the recent announcement by President Abbas that a draft resolution will be put to the UN on September 23. Last week we had a discussion on this issue in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly. Our desire is that before a final decision is taken about how to vote on this resolution,we see the text that will be submitted to the UN. This also was agreed in the framework of the EU, first to be fully acquainted with the text, then second to analyse it, and third to do as much as possible to have a common European position on the vote, and then to express our views. Mrs Ashton, the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy, yesterday was in the region with the task, on behalf of us all, the 27 foreign ministers, to find an agreement, which could make it possible for the basis of the debate that will take place at the UN to be the restoration of the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, because negotiations are the only way through which a solution will be reached. In discussions in the EU we have repeatedly expressed views, that we have authorized Mrs Ashton to express on our behalf, that we believe should be included in a draft resolution so that it can be acceptable.
I want to mention two more things. Bulgaria recognized the Palestinian state in 1988. This recognition does not change. Shortly thereafter, the status of Palestinian representation in Bulgaria was elevated to embassy level. From here on, our assessment will be based mostly on how well a resolution at this time would help to contribute to, or encourage both sides to return as soon as possible to the negotiating table. All this will occur next week in New York, where a series of scheduled meetings of the EU group will be held, so that we can discuss differentcourses of action before the vote in the General Assembly, which will probably be in the coming weeks .
Xinhua: Minister Mladenov, you mentioned that you expect a reasonable solution to be achieved next week? Does that reasonable solution include the admission of Bulgaria to Schengen in two stages, as mentioned last week by Minister Tsvetanov?
Nickolay Mladenov: I think that at the moment, and I repeat that this is the most important, is to leave the Polish EU Presidency free to find a solution acceptable to all EU countries. This is our desire. Once again, we understand the internal political difficulties in the Dutch government, but we believe that the interests of Bulgaria, the interests of Bulgarian citizens should not, in this debate, be of less weight than the coalition agreement in The Hague.
Telegraf newspaper: Mr Minister, you said that we would support the Schengen acquis if we are admitted to Schengen, but if not, they would have to be discussed very carefully. Does this mean that we have some reservations about the changes being prepared?
Nickolay Mladenov: At the moment there is a big discussion about reform of the Schengen acquis and principles. We are at the stage where we have expressed our support for this reform, but if Bulgaria was not part of this space in the coming months and years, we would have to look very carefully at how we vote on different elements of the reform package because it will impact on our country and our prospects for the future.
bTV: To ask you about another topic. Could the Foreign Ministry do anything more to solve this problem with the Russian tourists? Is there any official diplomatic Russian position on what this issue?
Nickolay Mladenov: What has been done up to now, and will continue to be done, God forbid that there should be any more people caught up in this, is to extend their visas. That is in our power. The conflict that has been created between the two companies is extremely unpleasant for Bulgaria, and I think that the people who were involved in itshould face maximum liability, because it undermines the credibility of our country and happensat a time when this year we have issued twice as many visas as in the whole of last year and when there was a 100 per cent increase in Russian tourists in Bulgaria.
This follows at least two decisions by the Foreign Ministry. The first was a refinement of our visa policy towards Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, when we reduced to the maximum limits allowed by the European Union for visa facilitation. The second was making more visas available to Russian citizens. We shall continue to follow the same policy for other regions, the next stage, which we shall reach in the next few months, will be easing access for tourists and businesspeople from the Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, etc. to Bulgaria, especially given that there is already one, and hopefully soon two direct air links between our countries. So, we shall continue to follow this policy. How tourists who come to our country are treated is not within the power of the Foreign Ministry and we hope that the bodies involved in the regulation of tourist services in the country will deal with this most situation critically so that it is not repeated in the future.
AFP: Do you know how many Russian tourists’ visas have been extended? And my second question relates to Belarus. After your visit to Belarus, do you keep in touch with the Belarusian authorities and what is your information about the democratisation process in this country?
Nickolay Mladenov: On your first question, at the next news conference you may have accurate figures. With regard to Belarus, in the past two days a new group of 13 prisoners who had been arrested during protests after the presidential elections were released from prison. I hope that all the commitments that were made by President Lukashenko in our meetings will be fulfilled. This is in the interest of Belarus and in the interests of those nationals who were arrested. For me it is extremely important to give the utmost help so that people who are in prison are released and for complete freedom to live again in the country, that in the future will begin a process of consolidating its democracy and that I hope, in the future will through a national dialogue establish a functioning multiparty system. That is in the interests of everyone and I think should be supported by everyone.
TV7: What is the Foreign Ministry's readiness for the upcoming presidential elections and how far have preparations reached?
Nickolay Mladenov: September 27 is the deadline for Bulgarian citizens abroad who want to vote where they are to submit requests for voting stations to be opened. Once again, I use this opportunity today to repeat an appeal for the requirements of the Electoral Code to be strictly observed, for applications available through the MFA website to be completed, that may be submitted electronically or in paper form to our embassies, so that after September 27 we are able to see where there are requests for the opening of voting sections. At this stage, what we cannot do is organise the holding of such elections in Syria because of the situation in that country right now. It would be dangerous to employ the embassy in such a task. There is a continuing discussion about whether to do so in Libya, whether conditions after the change in power are good enough for the organising of elections, but at this stage more likely not.

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