Sunday , June 16 2024

Interview with H.E. the Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria, Valentin Poriazov

 

 

 

“My view is that long-term solutions require irreversible commitment to good-neighbourly relations and reconciliation. Bulgaria has consistently been supportive of the Western Balkans’ integration with the EU upon fulfilment of the criteria for membership. Our strong belief is that the future of the Western Balkans belongs to the European Union. Starting accession talks to join the EU  requires a certain European maturity, the fulfilment of a number of criteria, amongst them, notably, the respect for human rights and good-neighbourly relations.

The good-neighbourly relations between Bulgaria and Greece are exemplary. Being EU and NATO Members with a solid knowledge of the neighbourhood, our two countries have the important task to provide a key contribution to the right decisions for the Western Balkans.”

 

GDL: Bulgaria is one of the oldest States in Europe. It is situated at the crossroads of continents, cultures and religions. How has geography shaped the character of the Bulgarian people?

VP: Winston Churchill once said that the Balkans produce more history than they could endure. That notion was quite valid for his times. I hope, not any more. But I would like to add: no country can escape from two things – its history and its geography.

As a matter of fact, Bulgaria is one of the oldest States in Europe. It is one of the very few States that has preserved the same name ever since its foundation in the 7th Century, 681. We have adopted Christianity from Constantinople, from the East Roman Empire in 864 and from Bulgaria it was passed on to other Slavic people. The Cyrillic alphabet was created in Bulgaria around 890 and then passed on to other Slavic nations.

Since Medieval times there has been a strong cultural bond between Greeks and Bulgarians. This bond is still present today and might help us explain the many similarities between our two nations, also in terms of national characters.

GDL: What is Bulgaria’s policy with regard to fully integrating the western Balkans into the European family?

VP: The new geopolitical context in Europe and the world has led to an increased engagement of the EU and NATO with the Western Balkans.

Their membership perspective has been confirmed. Concrete steps have been taken to help our Western Balkan partners mitigate the negative impact of the war in Ukraine in terms of energy, food security, resilience to hybrid threats, etc.

A new initiative has been launched to address the issues between Serbia and Kosovo.

My view is that long-term solutions require irreversible commitment to good-neighbourly relations and reconciliation. Bulgaria has consistently been supportive of the Western Balkans’ integration with the EU upon fulfilment of the criteria for membership. Our strong belief is that the future of the Western Balkans belongs to the European Union. Starting accession talks to join the EU requires a certain European maturity, the fulfilment of a number of criteria, amongst them, notably, the respect for human rights and good-neighbourly relations.

The good-neighbourly relations between Bulgaria and Greece are exemplary. Being EU and NATO members with a solid knowledge of the neighbourhood, our two countries have the important task to provide a key contribution to the right decisions for the Western Balkans. Bulgaria and Greece can also play a role in striking the right balance between the expectations for an accelerated integration process and the necessity to adhere to the core principle of own merits.

We should encourage our partners from the region to double their efforts in implementing reforms, improving administrative capacity and strengthening good-neighbourly relations. This is the shortest way to taking full advantage of the opportunities, provided by the increased EU commitment.

 

“In time of overlapping crises, Bulgaria and Greece share a common responsibility not only for energy security, but for the European future of the entire region. We are constantly enhancing the legal basis of our energy cooperation.”

 

GDL: Has Bulgaria met all the requirements to become a Schengen zone member?

VP: Bulgaria meets all the requirements for membership in Schengen which has been repeatedly stated in the reports of the European Commission for quite some time already. The European Parliament has supported our membership in a number of declarations.

The vast majority of EU Member States, including Greece, support us. We hope that before the end of this year we will be able to persuade the remaining two Member States who still have reservations, to also support our accession to Schengen.

GDL: Greece and North Macedonia reached a compromised agreement in 2018. It seems that Bulgaria is ready to do the same with the neighbouring State. Is it time, and under what circumstances?

VP: I remember well how long it has taken for Greece and North Macedonia to reach that agreement. Bulgaria’s relations with North Macedonia might be slightly different for reasons well known.

Bulgaria has always been open and constructively engaged in dialogue with the Republic of North Macedonia (RNM). We were the first country to recognise the new State back in 1992 and have always been there to support Skopje even in the most difficult times. I repeat, always. In 2017 we signed a bilateral Treaty for good-neighbourly relations. So, we do not need a new compromise agreement, as your question might imply.

Not long ago the Council of the European Union has reached a decision on a negotiation’s framework for our neighbour and the RNM has agreed with it. We all expect from a candidate country, which has declared its desire to be part of the Union and its values, to fulfil its obligations stemming from the negotiation’s framework. In order to open the first chapters of accession negotiations, North Macedonia has agreed to amend its Constitution and include the Bulgarians on an equal footing with the other peoples living in that country. This is an obligation, which North Macedonia has agreed to implement. Without this step, I am afraid the real start of the negotiations cannot take place.

If we look at the process from another perspective, we all expect to have predictable partners in the European Union. I believe you would agree that it is also to the benefit of all countries in our region.  And it will be to the benefit of the future functioning of the European Union after the accession of North Macedonia which we all us support and wish to be become a reality.

 

“There is no other country to have simultaneously a land border with both Greece and Turkey, so our interest in seeing our immediate neighbours find lasting solutions to the real problems that might still exist between them, is enormous.”

 

GDL: In today’s uncertain environment, Greece has manifested itself in a consistent manner, conducting constructive engagement in the region, in compliance with International Law and EU standards. How does Bulgaria respond to existing tensions derived from provocative and illegal behaviour of State actors in the region?

VP: Bulgaria is a Member of the European Union. The EU’s positions regarding sovereignty and adherence to the principles of International Law, including vis-a-vis our region, are well known and repeatedly stated. Bulgaria is a part to these positions and a part of the solidarity with Greece, if I comprehend well your question.

Bulgaria pursues good-neighbourly relations with all of its neighbours. This fact creates an even better argument for us to expect all of them to adhere to the principles of International Law in their relations. We strongly encourage the political dialogue between our immediate neighbours and we hope that it will bring positive results in the immediate future based on International Law and Maritime Law.

There is no other country to have simultaneously a land border with both Greece and Turkey, so our interest in seeing our immediate neighbours find lasting solutions to the real problems that might still exist between them, is enormous.

 

“The railway connectivity between Greece and Bulgaria is a matter of geopolitical and geostrategic importance. Investing in transport infrastructure would ensure better economic, trade and energy connectivity, while it has also a significant potential to provide for strengthened security and defence along the NATO Eastern Flank.”

 

GDL: The economic disruption caused by the war in Ukraine has amplified the need for an accelerated energy transition. Bulgaria and Greece have undertaken common initiatives not only for their own energy security, but also for the strengthening of the energy interconnection and diversification of the whole region. What future projects are on the agenda?

VP: In time of overlapping crises, Bulgaria and Greece share a common responsibility not only for energy security, but for the European future of the entire region. We are constantly enhancing the legal basis of our energy cooperation.

The recently signed MoU on exploring the possibility to construct the Alexandroupolis-Burgas oil pipeline creates the necessary basis for the implementation of a project that will allow the transfer of crude oil from the Aegean to the Black Sea region.

The Straits are already overwhelmed by heavy traffic and this new route should provide a much-needed relief.

The MoU on the security of gas supply and gas storage will enable Greek natural gas suppliers to book injection and withdrawal capacities at the Chiren Underground Storage Facility in Bulgaria. A project for its expansion to 1 billion cubic m is under implementation. On their side, the Bulgarian natural gas suppliers will be enabled to book slots and storage capacity, as well as regasification capacity from terminals in Greece.

We must turn these opportunities into a visible change as we already did with the launch of the commercial operations of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria/IGB on October 1st 2022 which was a major contribution to the energy diversification of Bulgaria and the whole region.

We continue to build upon this momentum and enhance the development of cross-border energy infrastructure and common large-scale investment projects. The construction of the LNG terminal near Alexandroupolis, which is a common project between Greece and Bulgaria, is underway and we expect it to be operational by the end of 2023 as a gateway to the global liquefied natural gas market, in full synergy with the IGB.

 

“Bulgaria and Greece, being NATO Members, share a common responsibility for the security and stability of the broader region, including the Black Sea Region… Bilateral and regional connectivity is of crucial importance for the security and stability, especially in times of crises.”

 

GDL: Bulgarian and Greek relations go back a long time ago, with ups and downs, but they have successfully overcome historic divisions and built confidence and formed a solid partnership. How can both counties accelerate this cooperation toward further stability and security in south-eastern Europe?

VP: Bulgaria and Greece, being NATO Members, share a common responsibility for the security and stability of the broader region, including the Black Sea Region. The Russian aggression against Ukraine has cut many supply chains in South East Europe and has proved how important it is to upgrade the infrastructure connectivity and to guarantee alternative routes of supply. Bilateral and regional connectivity is of crucial importance for the security and stability, especially in times of crises.

Last year we witnessed some very convincing examples in that respect. The decision of the Greek Government to provide access for Bulgaria to the Greek gas network in the emergency situation last April, as Gazprom abruptly stopped gas supply for us, was one of them. Sharing access to LNG terminals in Greece, as well as to the Bulgarian gas storage capacities and electricity exports from Bulgaria to Greece are other important steps in this direction.

Similarly, the railway connectivity between Greece and Bulgaria is a matter of geopolitical and geostrategic importance. Investing in transport infrastructure would ensure better economic, trade and energy connectivity, while it has also a significant potential to provide for strengthened security and defence along the NATO Eastern Flank.

 

“Our governments share a common political will to fully explore these opportunities to the benefit of our citizens. I hope in the next few months we will witness new examples of this common political will, being embodied in new projects and important agreements.”

 

GDL: In which other sectors can both sides focus upon to reach the potential that the future generations of Bulgarians and Greeks deserve?

VP: Practically in all fields. We are immediate neighbours and we belong to one integration community – the European Union and its single market. Only these two facts create endless opportunities for connectivity between our economies and our nations. Our governments share a common political will to fully explore these opportunities to the benefit of our citizens.

I hope in the next few months we will witness new examples of this common political will, being embodied in new projects and important agreements.

 

“One might say, it is a miracle that after more than 1,000 years of controversies, today Bulgaria and Greece enjoy such a high level of good-neighbourly relations. The truth is that it has taken decades of common efforts of wise politicians, diplomats and ordinary people, as well as a lot of good will and dedication in order to overcome the shadows of the past and to build mutual respect, trust and confidence.”

 

GDL: Your Excellency, you have served in Greece as a young diplomat and now as the Head of the Mission in Athens. In your opinion, do you see similarities in the two peoples?

VP: You are right, my professional life has been closely connected to Greece in one way or another for quite a few years. This might be related to the fact that Greece and Bulgaria are so close, not only in terms of geography and history, but also for political, security, economic, cultural and many more reasons.

I hope to have made a small contribution to the positive development of our bilateral relations during the last 30 years.

As you will remember, in 2020 we celebrated the 140th Anniversary of our Diplomatic Relations. The history of our relations is, however, much older. We have been neighbours for centuries. We have shared a turbulent past, marked by ups and downs, wars and peace, opposing blocks and alliances.

One might say, it is a miracle that after more than 1,000 years of controversies, today Bulgaria and Greece enjoy such a high level of good-neighbourly relations.

The truth is that it has taken decades of common efforts of wise politicians, diplomats and ordinary people, as well as a lot of good will and dedication in order to overcome the shadows of the past and to build mutual respect, trust and confidence.

The words of a great Danish philosopher, Soren Kirkegaard, come to mind: “You can understand life only looking backwards, but you can live your life only looking forward”.

We are proud that our two nations have managed to put an end to centuries of rivalry and to achieve an exemplary level of political and economic cooperation.

Greek-Bulgarian relations have a solid ground – our common values and our strong belief in a democratic international system based on the principles and norms of International Law. Our strategic partnership plays a crucial role for the stability of the whole region of South-Eastern Europe.

Our nations share common hopes and concerns. The answer to all the challenges we face today lies in the further strengthening of our bilateral cooperation and our partnership within Europe.

I am confident that such relations have an enormous potential for the future generations of Bulgarians and Greeks.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

Check Also

DEFEA Conference – ‘Current Strategies for a Challenging World’

error: Content is protected !!