STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT ROSEN PLEVNELIEV AT HIS 4TH ANNUAL PRESS CONFERENCE
The fourth year of my term in office has elapsed. These were tense and dynamic years for Bulgaria, Europe and the world. We are passing through turbulent times for the world. The record number of crises in the world and their interaction make the international environment insecure and unpredictable.
As President, I have had to respond to a couple of really big challenges:
- A series of political and parliamentary crises and a wave of civil protests, which resulted in the formation of two caretaker governments.
- Defending the direction of the country’s European development and Euro-Atlantic orientation, despite the growing domestic and international instability. I had to uphold the direction, in spite of the turbulences.
- A record low public trust in politicians and institutions. I have reiterated more than once that the real, big crisis in Bulgaria is not related to the resignation of a given minister or government, but to the public trust in the politicians and institutions. The lack of trust puts the political system itself to the test – a parliamentary republic, a multi-party democracy, which creates conditions for the growth of anti-systemic, populist and extreme nationalist ideas and the rise of respective parties. The Bulgarian parliamentary democracy, together with its EU and NATO membership, is the best achievement we have had for a quarter of a century. It is our duty to defend them showing commitment, honesty and principled positions.
- We have witnessed the mobilization of enormous civil energy for change. The citizens categorically showed that they want their voice to be heard – not only at the plethora of protests, but also at the conducted referendum. The people stood up against the oligarchy and the behind-the-scene arrangements and demanded change. As President, I support the active civil society in every possible way. We have no right to waste this potential and therefore we must ensure the more distinct participation of the civil society in politics. Direct democracy has been undeservedly neglected in Bulgaria. I hope that namely 2015 was the year that would reverse this trend – the Bulgarian people wants to be heard and the way to ensure this is to hold a greater number of reasonable referendums. “Democracy is cured only by more democracy,” President Zhelyo Zhelev used to say, to whom we said farewell for good.
- Achieving stability in the country despite the numerous crises and conflicts near Bulgaria. A stable Bulgaria in a restless, more dangerous and unpredictable world of a record number of crises, refugees, conflicts, terror acts, natural disasters and a bitter confrontation between global and regional forces.
- Achieving progress and development through reforming and improving the work of the institutions and speeding up the modernization of the country, despite the extreme international instability.
- Introducing long-term planning in the state. Reaching a consensus on the National Program for Development Bulgaria 2020 and also on Bulgaria 2030. Ensuring continuity in the implementation of the program by the different governments.
- I had to be a really independent president, affiliated with no party, to follow the dictates of my conscience. Despite the harsh and ongoing personal political, institutional and media attacks against me, I had to preserve the presidential institution as one of the few institutions that enjoy public trust.
My term in office coincides with the time of great geopolitical changes that have transformed the nature of the existing hitherto system of international relations. 2015 was a year of serious tension, lack of predictability, low trust and blatant violation of the rules of the international legal order.
We have witnessed new geopolitical realia and also a level of tension and confrontation between regional and global forces, which had not been observed since World War II. 2015 was marked by failed states, frozen conflicts, wars, including hybrid and conventional ones, terror acts, an unprecedented migration wave, a record number of crises and migrants and extreme instability in the world. The security environment and the global agenda have deteriorated and wholly changed.
The EU is at a crossroads. The European idea is in danger. We should not allow the EU to remain a formal union of states and the very reasons for the union to exist to disappear. Europe’s mission in the post-World War II period was very clear – post-war Europe united the people so that they could live in peace, sharing common values and prosperity. The people had to achieve such a level of integration which would make a future war impossible. Today Europe is in danger because the same generation that demolished the Berlin wall erects new walls of division. Europe has been weakened by the record number of crises, which it seems rather to register than find sustainable solutions to. We fight the consequences, but we fail to solve the prime causes. The feeling of insecurity and lack of direction grows stronger, while the public trust in the common project decreases. Unless we Europeans are united, we have no future. The greatest challenge today is to restore the long-term prospects, goals and vision for the project on a united and peaceful Europe.
The EU should cope with the plethora of crises, each one of which can weaken and destabilize the union permanently. They include:
First – the refugee crisis is a key crisis for Europe and will change it in political, economic and social terms. It leads to the re-emergence of old cankers in Europe such as populism, nationalism, division and creates new dividing lines by splitting the EU along the east-west axis.
Second – the economic, financial and debt crisis has been with us for a seventh year in a row. It can divide the union along the north-south axis. The north countries, which are rich and competitive, should save the south countries, which are financially undisciplined, have incurred huge debts and have failed to reform themselves.
Third – the Greek crisis creates instability in the very heart of the European Union – the Euro zone.
Fourth – the Ukrainian crisis is a symbol of the destruction of the principles of the international legal order established in post-World War II Europe. As a result sanctions and counter-sanctions were imposed along the EU-Russia axis. Although the conflict in Eastern Ukraine can be frozen, it will remain unsolved for long. The EU has failed to adopt a clear and unified position on this issue, yet it is namely when the international legal order is in danger that Europe should show that it is united, principled and strong.
Five – Today the terrorist threats to Europe are bigger and more dangerous than ever before. Terrorism is global, it needs to be addressed on a global scale and this will take quite some time because the ideology of terrorism may be defeated only by educated and tolerant societies. The fight against terrorism is a fight for the education of the young and the integration of the most marginalized groups in society.
Six – Europe should cope with the threat to Schengen and the free movement in the EU, which generations of Europeans dreamed of. Six countries reintroduced border control, which had not happened for decades. We must respond to the challenges by ensuring more integration.
Seven – populism and nationalism are on an unprecedented rise. The number of anti-European parties and movements is record high. Today Bulgaria and Europe need modern patriots, not extreme nationalists more than ever before.
Eight – if the United Kingdom EU membership referendum produces a negative result, this may cause a lasting destabilization and weakening of the union as an economic and geopolitical factor.
Nine – the creation of a multi-speed EU may have a lasting negative impact on Bulgaria by leaving the country in the periphery of the Euro-integration processes. Therefore Bulgaria should be ambitious and launch a new wave of European integration projects, for instance by joining the exchange rate mechanism ERMII, with a follow-up membership in the Euro zone, by joining the European Banking Union, by becoming a full Schengen member, ensuring membership in the European Single Supervisory Mechanism, speeding up the European Energy Union by having it launched in southeastern and central Europe etc. Currently we can practically prove that there are no big and small states in the EU namely because everyone can be part of the solution as long as the country is active and ambitious. The European Union is a platform for the countries that ensures that they can develop and progress.
Ten - The European Union must not bend to Russia’s willingness to restore the policies of great powers and spheres of interest. The big, yet quite dangerous game from the 19th century must not be continued. The 21st century requires new ideas, not readopting fallacious ideologies from the past.
Eleven – destabilizing the Balkans along the line of the confrontation between global and regional forces, as well as fueling old antagonisms and contradictions. The Balkans should not turn into a sphere of geopolitical competition, but of international cooperation. The borders in the Balkans should be removed, not moved.
Bulgaria was a factor of stability in the region and the EU. We performed our responsible role as a pro-European force in the Balkans and a responsible EU and NATO member-state. We received international recognition for this role. 2015 was a year of an active and principled Bulgarian foreign policy. Although we respect the human rights of the refugees, we also guard our borders well. We are working to ensure a pan-European solution to the common crises, but we also defend our national interests. We are working to ensure connectivity and integration in the Balkans. However we expect that the rules and principles of good neighborliness and objective presentation of our common history will be obeyed by all. We were the only country in Southeastern and central Europe that observed the regulations of Dublin and Schengen. We have adopted a position and we defend it. We are active not only in the region, but also in the EU, NATO and the world. I am proud to have been presented with the award of European personality of the year in Southeastern Europe for 2015, which I dedicate to the tolerant and wise Bulgarian people. I have called on for the following more than once: the Balkans should not be a periphery, but the center of the European geopolitical interests. History has taught us that Europe can be most easily destabilized through the Balkans. Therefore the EU should no longer consider the region as a periphery, but as a center of the European geopolitical interests. We deserved the high appraisal of European and international representatives and leaders, as well as the record number of visits in Bulgaria and our participation on the international scene in 2015.
All of us, European politicians, should act decisively so as to preserve this unique union for peace, a union of values, freedom and prosperity. A lot of generations of Europeans dreamed of a united and peaceful Europe. Today it is a reality that should not be discarded lightly. As President, a convinced democrat and European, I will do my best to support a united and strong Europe, which should survive the crises and thus become stronger.
In domestic terms, stabilization was achieved in 2015. After two years of political and parliamentary crises, the major parties in the country normalized the dialogue with each other. Despite the multi-party parliament, comprised of eight political formations, which represent a total of 47 political parties, and the complicated coalition formula, important steps were made to stabilize the political system. This created the opportunity to focus on modernizing and reforming important state and economic sectors. Success in politics is achieved when you preserve the good things and each one of us tries to add value. I am sure that each reform will be successful for a long time only if the political parties and power holders work together – when a dialogue is held and bridges are built. Bitter confrontation, no matter how correct and principled it may seem, can never contribute to achieving what the Bulgarian people wants – to live better in a fair, democratic, European state.
2015 was a good year for the Bulgarian economy. All macro-economic indicators have grown: 2.8 percent economic growth rate, 12 percent increase of export, 30 percent increase of the foreign investments, 2.8 billion leva increase in tax-collection rate. The budget deficit saw a significant decline in 2015 – to 2.6 percent of the GDP. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 2009 – 9.2 percent. Bulgaria’s national debt also considerably declined – to 80 percent of the GDP. In 2015 Bulgaria achieved the best result in EU funds absorption and ranks second in terms of utilization rate for the respective year. This was a year of a record high transfer of EU funds to Bulgaria. The absorption rate worth 95 percent for the first program period is undoubtedly a great success for the country and the government.
The economy is well positioned after the shock from the world crisis. The recovery process is speeding up and the basic factors that will ensure growth in 2016 will be: export, the recovery of the labor market, the progress and absorption of EU funds, the high internal and external liquidity, the low prices of petroleum and the energy products, the ambitious modernization program.
During the past year I personally expected that there would be more visible results of the investigation of the yet another attempt to rob the Bulgarian people. The bankruptcy of the fourth-ranking Bulgarian bank CCB put to the test not only the budget, but also the economic and financial stability.
This bankruptcy put to the test the ability of the Bulgarian institutions to protect the national wealth. I called on for finalizing the case, for revealing and telling the Bulgarian public everything that led to the oligarchy’s stealing billions. I insisted that each single lev, each loan, each asset should be traced and full transparency of this process should be ensured and that we should not allow the CCB dossiers to become yet another mechanism for political blackmail, for behind-the-scene management of the processes in the country. This was important not only in terms of showing a responsible attitude to the nation, but also as a guarantee that we can take measures and overcome these processes, these heavy dependencies that led to the bankruptcy. Regrettably I must admit that I am not content with what has been achieved so far. I will not stop demanding that all responsible institutions should do their job and avert yet another robbing of the Bulgarian people, through the CCB affair.
The reforms we are conducting today have no alternative. Quite a lot was completed in 2015. An important step towards reforming the education system was the adopted law on pre-school and school education, which introduces new elements in pre-school and primary education, two stages in secondary education and mechanisms for improving quality. The issues of changing the system of providing funds for university education was put on the social agenda. The effective implementation of the project on introducing a system of dual vocational training started.
A pension reform was carried out in order to cure and adapt the pension model in the country.
As early as the beginning of my term in office I considered a priority the reform in the Security sector. I promised that the secret services, which worked in the dark for 25 years, without any law and rules, would be placed on a clear institutional basis with organizational laws and rules. I promised and kept my promise. I am grateful that the political parties in the 43rd National Assembly showed a responsible attitude and adopted the package of laws in the Security sector, on which a consensus was reached way back in 2012. Thus the existence and the functioning of key services in the national security system are placed on a principled basis.
The judicial reform is in the center of everything, it is mandatory because without it we put to the test the success of any other effort. Without a working judicial system which should ensure justice and the rule of law neither will the expected investments be made, nor will the qualitative change of our lives take place. The caretaker government I appointed developed a strategy on continuing the reform of the Bulgarian justice. The constitutional amendments adopted at the end of 2015 are a step ahead. However, they left the impression that there is still no courage and political will to conduct more comprehensive and fundamental reforms in the Bulgarian justice. It was a positive development that the Supreme Judicial Council was divided into two separate structures, however the quota allocation of cases was not made in a way that would win the trust of the magistrates and the public. The changes come slowly, a resistance is felt. However we should act boldly and decisively. The people expect that the politicians will show a responsible attitude, will take concrete actions and will show a fair attitude above all. The reforms of the judicial system should continue at a high speed. The forthcoming amendments of the Judiciary System Act and the procedural laws, as well as adopting a strong anti-corruption legislation provide an opportunity to make up for the opportunities missed so far. I will highly appreciate any effort to accelerate the reform and speed up the actions related to it. We should work together – politicians, citizens and magistrates in order to achieve an independent and efficient judicial system that would restore the people’s feeling of justice.
I am proud to be the first Bulgarian president that used his right to initiate a referendum. I did that twice. In 2014 I initiated a referendum on changing the election rules, which was supported by the petition signed by more than 560,000 citizens. The majority in the 42nd National Assembly showed an irresponsible attitude and did not respect the people’s opinion. As President, I have always been consistent in my actions. The difficulties and challenges do not make me give up following the road I have taken. Therefore in 2013 I once again tabled a proposal for conducting a referendum in the 43rd National Assembly, which included three questions: introducing compulsory voting, having part of the Assembly deputies be elected by a majority-voting system, and the opportunity for online voting. Unfortunately the Assembly deputies failed to overcome their narrow-party interests and to support the first two questions.
Despite the resistance shown by the political parties and the vague explanations provided by the Central Electoral Commission, which led to depriving the people from their right to exercise their constitutional right, the referendum was undoubtedly a success and will be tabled for discussion in parliament. Approximately 2 million and 700,000 Bulgarians voted despite the almost full lack of a real information campaign, the lack of debates and clash of arguments, the demonstrative unwillingness of part of the political parties to take into account the people’s willingness to be heard, the badly written directions of the Central Electoral Commission that only if the voter explicitly declares their willingness to vote, they could vote for the referendum, which was revoked by the Central Electoral Commission itself at 12 o’clock on the day the referendum was held. This was done after a lot of citizens complained that they were not given a voting paper if they did not ask for one themselves. Despite all difficulties, the voters actively and willingly took part in the referendum. The result of the referendum encourages direct democracy and shows the real citizen activity I take pride in. The result can be unambiguously interpreted – the Bulgarians today would like to be active participants in the important decision-making processes in the country, not only at election time, but also by taking the opportunity direct democracy provides. I will continue to make efforts in the future so that direct democracy finds its worthy place in the political life of the country.
I should warn that the refusal to adopt the modern ways of voting and neglecting the will of the people may result not only in apathy and in degrading democratic values, but also in a decay of statehood itself, an even lower public trust and even greater instability. If the National Assembly says NO to the referendum, this will also rearrange the political space in Bulgaria, since almost 2 million Bulgarians who said YES to online voting will feel that they are not represented in the party status quo today.
The Bulgarians actively participated in the referendum not only because they want the introduction of online voting. They participated to support the contemporary practices of e-governance, which are entering our lives more and more and improve the functioning of the Bulgarian institutions. We should not waste this civil energy for change. I appointed a minister in charge of the development of e-government in the caretaker government in 2013. Shortly a National plan for introducing e-government was prepared, which included clear goals and priorities. I am happy that the next governments built on what was launched and after pooling efforts we can set ourselves ambitious goals to speed up e-governance and introduce e-government, e-justice, e-healthcare, e-municipality, e-voting etc. I will not be tired to reiterate that e-government creates an attitude of transparency and trust between the people and the state. It’s so simple. Whoever wants to win the public trust, whoever wants to play a significant role in Bulgarian politics from now on, should do four simple things – ensure e-government, a fair law administration system, conduct a greater number of referendums and establish a socially-responsible, not oligarchic economy.
The world is becoming increasingly more insecure and more unpredictable today. We are witnessing a process of global confrontation, the current risks increase and new risks and threats to the security in the world are posed. Bulgaria as a NATO and EU member-state consistently fulfills its commitments as an ally. Our country is located in a region where traditionally the great powers’ interests clash. As President I defend the position that the policy of great powers and spheres of influence has no place in the 21st century. It is namely this policy that caused numerous conflicts in Europe and two bloody world wars.
Bulgaria is at a crossroads. Conflicts occur and wars are waged near our borders, as a result of which we felt the pressure of the refugee wave. Way back in 2014, I convened a Consultative Council for National Security on the topic of the migration pressure and we made responsible decisions. We established a system and good coordination between the institutions. We had to cope with a record inflow of refugees in a worthy manner in 2015. A total of 31,000 immigrants who illegally entered the country were detained upon entering or leaving the country or inside the country. More than 95,000 attempts made by citizens of third countries to illegally cross the borders of the country were registered throughout the year. We showed a responsible attitude to this great challenge. I am proud that Bulgaria is an example of obeying the EU rules by registering every immigrant who passed through our country. We express solidarity with the asylum-seekers, we grant humanitarian status to those who meet the criteria, we launched an integration program and meanwhile we are seeking a lasting solution to the crisis together with our European partners. We protect our external border in a worthy manner. We have set an example of observing the rules and regulations of Dublin and Schengen. Our actions are worthy and responsible. We received international recognition for them.
At all international forums I took part in I supported those who are escaping from war, however, I called on for drawing a distinction between refugees and economic immigrants. I have been calling on for adopting a common European approach since the beginning of the refugee crisis. I said that by erecting any piece of fence, barbed-wire fence or using tear gas, the EU is turning its back to its own values and identity. The EU is the biggest democratic community in the world. When EU member-states refuse to obey the rules, when nationalist and populist goals are pursued, this unique union for peace, human rights and freedoms is endangered. The solution lies in demonstrating solidarity and adopting a common European approach. This does not clash with the idea of exerting a much stricter control and making a clear distinction between those who want to escape from wars and conflicts and all the rest who strive to reach Europe for various other reasons. We should be even stricter and more uncompromising to those who think they can hide behind the humanness and mercy of the European citizens in order to commit crimes, to destroy the legal order established on our continent.
In 2015 we saw the ugly face of terrorism. The barbarous terror acts in Paris are directed against the principles and foundations of our democratic societies. We, Bulgarians, felt the horror of terror at the Sarafovo airport three years ago. Today we should show solidarity and be decisive. Terrorism is a challenge and threat, which we can cope with only together. We should see the essence of the problem. I said that terrorism starts where education has failed. Although terrorists can be defeated only by the international anti-terrorist coalition, which Bulgaria is an active member of, their ideology cannot be eliminated with weapons. The ideology of terrorism can be defeated through education, integration and building tolerant societies. Marginalized groups and the lack of prospects for the young and poor are some of the main factors fueling the ongoing conflicts in the world, and also for the appearance of radical ideologies and extremists. I said that the terror acts are not a clash of civilizations, but a clash between human civilization and cruelty. That we should continue to be tolerant, to safeguard human rights and freedoms, to respect the different if we do not want the terrorists to win.
Bulgaria is facing new challenges in the security sector, therefore I convened a Consultative Council for National Security on the changes in the geo-strategic security environment and the ensuing risks and threats to the national security. The council recommended comprehensive and efficient measures in order to adapt to the new reality.
A violent cyber-attack was carried out against the websites of a lot of state institutions on election and referendum day. This is a new danger, which should be analyzed in details and efficient measures should be taken in order to counteract it, using the experience of our partners. The unprecedented in terms of scope and intensity cyber-attacks on election and referendum day are attacks against the Bulgarian institutions, consequently against the Bulgarian statehood. These were attacks against the referendum, therefore attacks against Bulgarian democracy. This hostile act should be extensively investigated. While all politicians said nothing on the issue, I wrote a letter to the security services, I requested answers, I convened a Consultative Council for National Security, at which I briefed the political leaders and institutions on the preliminary results of the check. The Bulgarian institutions and politicians should decisively counteract the cyber-attacks against our country and democracy, not use them to serve their narrow-party interests. An action plan should be prepared so that capabilities are built and everybody could open their eyes, not hide and say nothing.
As a democrat and politician I am expected to have a position and not keep silent when the foundations of the international order are destroyed or national interests are endangered. When peace is in danger, you should not keep silent. When democratic values are endangered, you should not keep silent. When cyber-attacks are launched against the Bulgarian state and democracy you should not keep silent. I did that – I said that the cyber-attacks are the new Kostinbrod – an attack and manipulation on election day so as to ensure vote-rigging and distort the vote of the Bulgarian voters.
I did not keep silent either on the aggressive policy and actions of the power holders in Russia on the Ukrainian crisis. I respect the Russian people, the Russian culture, science and universal achievements. However the actions the Kremlin took clash with the international legal order. I do not approve of fueling frozen conflicts and pursuing a policy of great powers and spheres of influence and I think these approaches are extremely harmful and should remain in the past. The demonstration of military power and propaganda hysteria are approaches that were typical in the past and are an unlearned lesson from history. The 21st century needs new ideas. Military power and weapons of mass destruction do not impress me. However, what will really impress me is if a high-quality debate is held, including in Moscow, on how to ensure lasting peace and the rule of law in Europe. And we can ensure peace only if the strong and weak, the big and small, the rich and poor are equal before international law and if rules are valid for all.
In 2015 we made strategically important decisions on national security and defense. I held a Consultative Council for National Security especially on the topic of defense and the council made a decision of historical significance on the armed forces. We made the decision whereby the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly should adopt a new program for the development of the armed forces by 2020, which is already a fact. We devised a plan on the development of the armed forces by 2020, which included concrete priorities and projects. We set the direction of considerably increasing the interoperability with the partners and putting an end to the country’s dependence solely on Russian military technologies. As a result, the Bulgarian MIG 29 fighters are already repaired in Poland. After the Consultative Council for National Security was held, the Council of Ministers allocated the necessary funds, in compliance with the commitments assumed and the NATO Readiness Action Plan, adopted at the NATO summit in Wales. We insisted that the NATO allied command operations should develop a plan on defending Romania and Bulgaria at times of crisis. Bulgaria adopted a national strategic action plan of the armed forces to protect the Republic of Bulgaria at times of crisis, which has already come into force. We opened a NATO Force Integration Unit in Bulgaria. The unit is part of the most considerable strengthening of NATO’s collective defense since the end of the Cold War. At the ceremonial inauguration I said that although freedom is priceless, it is not free and that freedom and democracy should not be taken for granted. They should be defended on a daily basis. People expect that collective security and defense should be a strategic priority for politicians. I support the thesis that only together can we cope with the challenge and overcome every crisis. Security in Europe needs joint decisions, not ones based on narrow national interests.
I am content that the Assembly deputies showed a nationally-responsible attitude and approved the “Program for the Development of the Defense Capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria 2020” by a huge majority – a document that specifies the parameters for development and the main directions for building the defense capabilities by 2020 by using the country’s political, economic, technological, informational, military and civil resources. The implementation of the program requires ensuring the necessary resource to that effect. I expect that the government, by implementing the decision made by the Consultative Council for National Security, will fulfill the assumed commitment on the gradual increase of the funds allocated to defense. In the 2016 budget, the defense expenditures are planned to be 1,35 percent of the GDP and by 2023 they should reach 2 percent. Shortly after the decision was made, our NATO allies voiced their high appraisal of the responsible decisions made.
As President I completely changed the priorities in the Bulgarian energy sector way back in 2012. Instead of a “grand slam” of three Russian projects, I set three reasonable priorities: energy efficiency, energy diversification, energy liberalization. 2015 was the year when the establishment of the European Energy Union started. The changes of the Union’s energy strategy are directed towards guaranteeing greater energy security, sustainability and competitiveness. This is a vision on ensuring more integration, connectivity and transparency in the supply of energy resources to Europe.
The process of liberalizing the electricity and gas market is of key importance for the sustainable development of the Bulgarian energy sector. The liberalization of the electricity market in Bulgaria is taking place at a fast rate and will be fully completed in 2016. The efforts are directed at establishing a stable and predictable domestic energy market and also at ensuring that Bulgaria will enjoy equal rights in the European energy market. It is our strategic interest to remove the dependence on one single pipeline, one gas supplier and on energy monopolists once and for all and to ensure that the prices of the energy resources are determined under conditions of competition, transparency and on the basis of market prices, in compliance with the fundamental principles of the EU in the sector.
We are working to ensure the liberalization of the gas market as well. In order to create a functioning national, regional and European energy market, we need an adequate connectivity of the energy infrastructure. Way back in 2012, I said that the inter-systemic gas connectors with Greece, Russia, Turkey and Serbia are of strategic importance for our country. Currently the inter-connector with Romania is being built and is expected to be completed in 2016. The inter-connector with Greece has been negotiated and is expected to be completed by 2018. The inter-connectors with Turkey and Serbia are being negotiated and should be implemented by 2020. For Bulgaria, the implementation of the South Gas Corridor is a strategic opportunity for the diversification of the many-year dependence on one pipeline and one supplier. The inter-systemic gas connector with Greece should be considered an integral part of the South Gas Corridor and the North-South corridor initiated by us. We are working to make possible the establishment of a Balkan energy bourse and a gas hub in Bulgaria, which will considerably contribute not only to security, but also to ensuring competitive market prices and supplies in the region. We have been exploring our own gas deposits in the Black Sea shelf.
I have identified energy efficiency as a national priority. I have been working to ensure that this priority is implemented ever since my first day in office as Minister of regional development and public works. I said that cheap energy is saved energy. I worked to launch a large-scale program for energy renovation of the Bulgarian homes. More than 250,000 Bulgarians trusted the National program for energy efficiency and they put themselves down for free sanitization. The interest the citizens showed, which far exceeds even the most optimistic expectations, proves that we are on the right road. The first blocks of flats have already been sanitized and the electricity bills of the people living in them fell by a minimum of 40 percent.
As far as I am president, Bulgarian foreign policy will be predictable and principled, it will be a policy pursued by a worthy EU and NATO, having a common cause with the Union and the alliance, not a 16th republic or a Trojan horse. The Bulgarian national interest was clearly defined by the apostle of freedom – we should be equal to the other European peoples. To me, this means that we should be an active and worthy member. Currently Bulgaria receives recognition for its principled policy of ensuring a peaceful and integrated Balkans, for a strong and united EU.
I pursue a pro-Bulgarian and pro-European foreign policy. I work to ensure good-neighborly relations – our relations with Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia have never been better, the bilateral trade - more intensive and the number of tourists – so high. I work to ensure that Bulgaria enjoys a good reputation in the region and the world.
In 2015 Bulgaria was in the center of the diplomatic attention. Within a month, in January, the US Secretary of State, his British counterpart and the NATO Secretary General visited Sofia. A lot of heads of state, prime ministers, commissioners, ministers and diplomats visited Bulgaria throughout the year. The reason is that Bulgaria is a factor that cannot be disregarded in the Balkans, and the region became the point of intersection of a couple of key international topics: the relations between the West and Russia; the construction of energy corridors; the refugee wave and the protection of the external EU borders; the fights against terrorism and the integration of the Muslim communities in Europe; the change of the geo-strategic balance in the Black Sea and the Balkans; the tension between Russia and Turkey etc. Currently Bulgaria is pursuing a peaceful, democratic and balanced, principled foreign policy. This fact is highly appreciated and our voice is clearly heard on the international scene.
Within the year I made 28 official and working visits, I held more than 120 international meetings. Since the beginning of my term in office as president, I have always been working to expand the cooperation and strengthen the good-neighborly relations in the Balkans. In 2015 I made official visits to Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the presidents of Albania, Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia and many other countries were my guests. At these meetings I always expressed my deep conviction that the European integration in the Western Balkans has no alternative. Increasing the connectivity by building a state-of-the-art transport, communication and energy infrastructure is a condition for prosperity and development of the region.
I took over, on behalf of Bulgaria, the chairmanship-in-office of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) at the meeting of the state and government leaders in Tirana in June 2015, which was a recognition of Bulgaria’s role as a regional leader and factor of stability. The Bulgarian chairmanship set an ambitious agenda, focused on increasing the connectivity in the region, strengthening the civil societies and the foundations of democracy and coping with the challenges in the security and migration sectors.
Apart from Southeast Europe, official and working visits were made to the US, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The ambition to foster the relations with Asian countries was realized in the visit I made to Mongolia and the Republic of Korea.
We opened up new prospects for the Bulgarian business. We signed a lot of bilateral agreements. We unveiled a monument of the Cyrillic alphabet in Mongolia, 8,000 km away from our homeland, as a symbol of the holy brothers’ great and intransient deed. During the visits we marked the 65th anniversary of the diplomatic relations with Mongolia and the 25th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea.
In 2015, for a fourth time in a row, I took part in the UN General Assembly Session and also in the Summit for adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. I am proud of the adopted 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, Bulgaria taking part in their establishment and being a factor for achieving a historical consensus between all UN member-states. I took part in the meeting of global leaders on issues related to the equality of sexes and the empowerment of women, organized by the UN Secretary General and the President of China, as well as in the Summit on Counteracting Terrorism.
The fight with climate changes, ensuring energy efficiency and sustainable development are a cause for me. I was head of the Bulgarian delegation at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Paris. I said that fighting climate changes is not merely a moral commitment, but it makes it necessary to reconsider the approaches to achieving economic growth. All countries must contribute to reducing the greenhouse emissions. However, they can also benefit from the opportunities which the low carbon economy of the future offers. Fighting global warming requires us to change our way of life and work, by giving green light to new energy efficient ways and models of production, which are in conformity with nature. I am happy that Bulgaria contributed to the historic breakthrough made by signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which was signed by representatives of 195 countries.
It was an honor to me to open the leaders’ meeting in Paris related to marking the 70th anniversary of UNESCO, which was held two days after the horrible terror acts in the heart of the French capital on 13 November 2015. I said that no one in the world is born a terrorist. Terrorists are created. Social exclusion, inequality and the lack of opportunities to exercise fundamental human rights fuel hatred and division. There are a lot of young people who have no prospects and goals in life and radicalism is only a step away. The ideology of terrorism can be defeated only by better ideas, tolerant societies and educated people. I warned about the danger that Europe may resort to revenge, xenophobia and using the language of hatred after the terror acts.
A great recognition for Bulgaria was the invitation extended to me to deliver a keynote speech in the first Berlin Global Forum, the World Security Conference and the Third Global Forum in Baku. I received the European award ERIprix of the Province of Lower Austria and the Danube Krems University for contributions to preserving the diversity and equality of the regions on their road to united Europe, as well as the Nizami Gandzhevi international award for contributions to the sphere of intercultural understanding, tolerance and respect to the world cultural diversity.
The fact that Bulgaria is taking over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe in the period November 2015 – May 2016 is a high recognition of Bulgaria’s international prestige and provides an opportunity for active participation in the regulation of the basic political processes which have an impact on the democratic security in Europe: the crisis in Ukraine, the threat from radicalization and terrorism, the dynamic migration processes and safeguarding human rights.
Our country was established as a factor of stability in the region, and the international trade in the Balkans is continuing to grow. In 2015 as well, the presidential institution worked for establishing closer connections with the countries in the region. Evidence that we are on the right road is the growth of international trade in the Balkans. The establishment of Southeast Europe as an appropriate region for investments and business is our priority. We are working to ensure integration and cooperation in the Balkans. Under conditions of globalization we can achieve success and economic growth only if we pool efforts to this effect.
Bulgaria is among the five best-performing economies in 2015. Undoubtedly the credit for that goes to the export-oriented companies. The companies which are competitive on the world market, which are innovative and develop. The creation of a good business environment for export-oriented companies and products is a result of the cooperation between the state, business and science, which I encourage and develop.
As president, and before that as minister I devoted myself to regional development. The implementation of thousands of projects of the Bulgarian municipalities has started since 2009, hundreds of new kindergartens have been built, thousands of schools, city parks, squares, public areas, public buildings have been renovated. Thousands of kilometers of roads have been renovated, road and railway corridors passing through Bulgaria have been modernized. The modernization of the country and the basic infrastructure has no alternative. I am devoted to this strategic national priority. As minister I promised three highways. Currently the Lyulin, Trakia and Martitza highways are completed. I have kept my promise. We have completed the construction of three highways and three more are under construction – the Struma and Hemus highways and the Sofia ring road, on which considerable progress has been made. A total of 350 km of highways have been built since 2009. We can take pride in this achievement. The Sofia underground network as a big and strategic project for the country also developed rapidly. 9 km and 8 underground stations were built before 2009. Currently they are 39 km and 34 underground stations. Today you can pass through Sofia from Lyulin to Mladost in 25 minutes. More than 300,000 people use the underground daily and our capital is becoming cleaner, greener and more modern. The Sofia waste processing plant began operating in 2015. This is the most up-to-date facility for the mechanical biological treatment of waste in the Balkans. The notorious, stinking Sofia garbage packs remain in the past. More than 50 new waste-treatment plants have been built for the Bulgarian cities in four years. Thousands of new buses, trolley cars, trams and other vehicles of public transport have been purchased. Bulgaria is positioned on a crossroads and is considerably and quickly improving its infrastructure.
Bulgarian agriculture is quickly developing. After two decades of considerable lagging behind and devastation, Bulgarian agriculture has been advancing in the post-2009 period. The non-recourse finance of the Bulgarian farmers and agricultural regions has marked a multiple increase – from 280 million leva in 2009 to 3.3 billion leva in 2015. The growth is enormous. Thanks to European solidarity and the purposeful state policy, more than 9 billion leva were poured into the Bulgarian producers in the form of direct payments and a further five billion leva in the form of subsidies from the Agriculture fund under the Rural program. Thanks to this huge and unprecedented resource, the farms were modernized, new equipment was purchased, the amount of uncultivated land was considerably reduced. The price of land went up, the export of agriculture production gained momentum.
I am proud to be the patron of the development of the Bulgarian ICT industries, outsourcing and the production of car components. We created and developed these clusters and the results were not late to come. For instance, 13 years ago, when we created the Bulgarian ICT cluster in a depot of building 12 in Business Park Sofia, we did not imagine that Bulgaria will become a regional hub of start-ups, a regional hub of the ICT industry and that 17,000 new jobs will be created. The prospects are that they will double by 2020 if we ensure appropriate human resources to this effect.
The outsourcing industry developed even more quickly. I was happy to receive the award for the best European outsourcing destination, which Bulgaria won in 2015. More than 35,000 jobs were created. The industry spread also on a regional level, in towns such as Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Veliko Turnovo and others. The expectations are that the industry will grow and 30,000 jobs will be created by 2020.
The car building industry also developed dynamically. About 30 new factories were built, more than 20,000 new jobs were created and the production of car components has become the most quickly developing industrial sector in the country in the past years. We started literally from scratch a couple of years ago by creating the automotive sector at the presidential institution.
The future does not lie in the gas pipelines and hubs, although we cannot do without them. The future lies in talent and innovation, in good education and strategic thinking. I am proud that I initiated the creation of and am patron of the first innovative ecosystem in Bulgaria and in the Balkans. We opened the first premises of Sofia Tech Park in December. It is the first scientific and technological park in Bulgaria and in the Balkans, which was jointly supported by Bulgaria and Europe. A development and innovative infrastructure was built, including 11 scientific labs, an incubator for start-ups, an interactive museum and a forum for events. The project sets as a priority ensuring innovations, science and entrepreneurship in Bulgaria through the cooperation between the universities and the business community, assisting the start-ups and the culture of entrepreneurship in Bulgaria and in the region. As a result of the project, a state-of-the-art scientific infrastructure has started functioning since the beginning of 2016, which assists the Bulgarian innovative business.
Innovations, the development activities and human capital are the driving force of growth on a global level. Currently Bulgaria is recognized as a leader in the ICT sector in Southeast Europe. According to the Forbes magazine, Sofia is one of the ten most attractive cities for entrepreneurship and starting a business in the world. Sofia is a leading destination for the development of start-ups in the Balkans. The reasons: quick internet, low taxes, cheap registration of a new company, a lot of investment funds.
In 2015 we strengthened some of the regulatory bodies which play an important role in Bulgarian economy such as for instance BNB and the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission. As a result, BNB is quickly preparing stress tests for the Bulgarian banks in order to achieve its strategic goal – Bulgaria’s joining the European Bank Supervisory Mechanism, the European Banking Union, the Exchange Rate Mechanism ERMII, and by 2020 - the Euro zone. The Energy and Water Regulatory Commission managed to considerably reduce the losses of the National Electric Company and to give the green light to energy liberalization.
As President I am one of the few Bulgarian politicians who keep up the debate on Bulgaria’s communist past. A change of elites did not take place in Bulgaria. The transition in Bulgaria was replaced. It was namely the wrong model of transition that slowed down the country’s development by allowing the communist nomenclature to regenerate and to continue to dominate the public and economic life. Currently former socialist-era state security agents hold public positions and work in institutions. One in ten officials in the Bulgarian administration is a former socialist-era state security agent. They are everywhere around us and the shadow of the past is passed over to the present. Since my first day in office, I adopted a firm position against appointing former socialist-era state security agents as Bulgarian ambassadors. I firmly fulfill the commitment assumed. I fight for ensuring that all archives remain accessible. The archive of the National Intelligence Service has already been submitted, the last files from the archive of Military information remain. I will continue to work until all dossiers are submitted to the Commission, so that they can be digitalized and made accessible to the public. I will not calm down until communism enters the history textbooks and the museum and is objectively appraised.
The President is a symbol of traditions. I particularly take pride in the fact that in 2015, after a 9-year interruption, we managed to revive a legend – the folklore Rozhen fair. The Rozhen fair of folklore and stock-breeding, of which I had the honor to be patron, presented the whole people’s culture as it really is – ancient and great, open to the future; our music, our customs, our dances, dresses and national costumes. On the three days it was held, it managed to gather 300,000 guests, who enjoyed the unique atmosphere and the magic of Bulgarian folklore.
As President I continue to make efforts to strengthen the good and friendly relations between the different religious communities in Bulgaria. In 2015 we marked 1150 years since the Christianization of the Bulgarian nation with a solemn holy mass, headed by Patriarch Neofit and the anniversary of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. For a second year in a row I hosted the solemn Iftar dinner, took part in the conference of the European Baptist Federation, I attended the day of the Jewish community – Hanukkah. To me, as Head of State, it is extremely important that I share the holidays and traditions with the religious communities in Bulgaria. I think that this not only shows respect, but is also important as a way of reconfirming our will and choice to live together in peace and harmony.
We continued and built on reasonable initiatives of the presidential institution such as The Bulgarian Christmas, Support a Wish, the President’s Mobile Reception-room, the John Atanasoff award, which became a tradition. We further developed the initiatives launched during the first year of our term in office, namely – the Month of the political consultations, the Day of the open doors, the Youth vision for the development of Bulgaria and the Council of presidents.
As President I will continue to act independently and bona fide. I believe that there should be morale and that principles are important in politics. I do not seek media comfort, I got used to the unprincipled attacks that are carried out against me on a daily basis. I will continue to defend the national interest, the modernization and the European development of Bulgaria. I look ahead.