Address by President Rosen Plevneliev to the European Parliament


It’s a privilege to address you today as President of Bulgaria. It’s an honour to speak here in the very heart of European democracy. I am a proud pro-European President of a pro-European nation. We Bulgarians are proud to be an anchor of stability and an engine for positive development in South East Europe. It is our common duty to defend the European values of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law and solidarity. It is our common cause to continue making and shaping history with our project for Europe that is united, prosperous and at peace.

But peace and freedom are tested, are confronted today. We witness the worst security situation since the end of Second World War. We see fundamental differences between world and regional powers. National borders and international principles are questioned. We witness a much more complicated international system where world and regional institutions and powers are unable to prevent and solve the record number of conflicts. In many regions war and terror prevail. States and institutions disintegrate. Today in Europe we understand that, what happens in the Middle East or Africa affects our lives directly. Today borders are making a comeback. The same generation that brought down the Berlin Wall is building new walls in the very heart of Europe today.

Yes, the world is out of balance today and it will take time to find a new one. We see unstable regions, unsafe borders and worried citizens. Terrorism is on the rise. At any moment, in any place in the world, there could be a terrorist attack. No one is immune and no one is safe. Today, power in the world is shifting and changing.

At the Munich Security Conference, the Russian prime minister spoke about the time of the First Cold War, and the New Cold War time we are facing today. I hope we are not heading into a new Cold War. We are not in a time of a new Cold War, but we are rather in a time of Cold Peace. Two years ago, at the Munich Security Conference, I pointed out that Europe has entered a new period. The Ukrainian crisis was the game changer. We have entered a new phase of development, which I call Cold Peace Time. Peace, because nobody wants a war, but Cold Peace because we see confrontation and methods from the Cold War time – propaganda wars, cyber-attacks, proxy and hybrid warfare. And some countries got “cold”, destabilized and weakened through frozen conflicts.

The Russian president often talks about a new balance in the world with spheres of interest of Great Powers, that need to be respected. Are we heading towards a new Yalta Conference? If the West allows this, it will be a historic shame. We need to show character, we need to stand up and defend our vision for our united Europe. We are living in difficult times, because world and regional leaders demonstrate different approach and different goals in politics. The cause of wise politics is to modernize, to educate, to give way to diplomacy and not to fight. But if you don’t have a cause, you need a war, you need a convenient enemy. It’s easy to destabilize. States could be broken easily by powerful neighbours. But broken societies can only be repaired by people, not by Great Powers. You can quickly destroy order but it takes a lot of time to rebuild it – unfortunately this is exactly what I see today in parts of Europe. The goal of wise politics should not be to create frozen conflicts and occupy your neighbor’s territory. In 21st century it is not wise to move borders, but to think beyond borders. The goal of wise politics is to make your nation educated and prosperous, to empower citizens, to create societies that are free and tolerant.

We do not want to go back to the time when the Great Powers allocated their spheres of influence. We cannot once again allow `political interests` to divide and occupy the territory of sovereign states. What happened in Ukraine is a bitter reminder that the achievements of progressive mankind cannot be taken for granted. We never wanted to have a war again in Europe, but unfortunately today, there is a war in Europe and that’s in Ukraine. For me, for us, Crimea is Ukraine and Ukraine is Europe. I consider lifting visa for Ukrainian citizens as a significant and urgent step to support Ukraine and let its people feel welcome and supported by the Europeans.

The lack of proper knowledge about the past, the lessons not learned from history  continue to cast a shadow on our future. We shouldn‘t give a chance to populists to exploit ignorance or forgetfulness and change the past to their liking. I welcome the creation of a European House of History. Remembrance of the tragic past should be encouraged and passed onto younger generations. And with it the most important lesson – that peace is not given and it is up to every one of us to protect it. And that peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is human rights, peace is rule of law.  Every young European should be able to see where and how battles such as Verdun or Doyran happened and understand why we should never go to war again. The Bulgarian revolutionary Gotse Delchev dreamed of a future world, where nations would never again go to the battlefield, only compete in the field of culture, science and knowledge. In the 21st century Europe’s disagreements should be solved in Parliaments, not on battlefields! The European integration project is making this dream a reality.

Of course Europe cannot be an island of stability in the ocean of world instability today. The EU is facing a record number of crises. Additional crises are on our radar screens, for example the possible Brexit, the rise of nationalists and populists, migration and others. We must not allow Europe to fall into a moral crisis – a crisis of lack of solidarity, a crisis of values. Whether it is migration or the sanctions on Russia – we need to stand and stick together. We are a family. Family in a crises stands together! And every member of the family has to contribute, to solve and not deepen the problems. Bulgaria is proud to be always part of the European solution and acts in a solider and responsible way.

The EU has unique significance and strong political legitimacy, because of the peaceful discussions and settlement of differences, because of the shared fundamental rights and rules, and because of the achieved unprecedented level of cooperation between 28 Member States. The EU is a unique project for peace, where every nation is important. No state is periphery or subordinate. The problems of migration, terrorism, climate change, economic crises and others go beyond our borders. These problems are transnational and require joint efforts. Cooperation is no longer a matter of choice, but of necessity.

We see chaos around our borders, failed states, and frozen conflicts. Brutal criminal interests and human traffickers make business by playing with people’s lives. Because of that the operations of NATO and Frontex on the outside borders are just and timely. Helping people whose life is in danger is a universal value. But it is also essential to make the difference between those who run for their lives and migrants that are just looking for better economic perspective.

Today the refugee crisis is crucial for Europe. It has the capacity to change it politically, economically and socially. It inflames old plagues like populism, nationalism and division. It embodies the crucial need for a better, common and long-term decision-making. In the face of an unprecedented migration flow, every member state has to demonstrate solidarity and responsibility.

Bulgaria has proved to be a loyal partner in good and in hard times. We are situated on the easiest and direct way from the crisis zones to Western Europe. Bulgaria is protecting the external borders of the EU in a professional and efficient manner. We follow the rules of Dublin and Schengen. We show solidarity with all refugees and give humanitarian status to those that meet the criteria. Bulgaria fulfils all its responsibilities and duties as a member state and it needs to be taken to an equal footing with Schengen members by joining the Schengen area as soon as possible for the sake of the EU common security policy. Bulgaria supports the establishment of a solidarity scheme, which will allow the fair relocation and resettlement of refugees among all Member States. As Chairman-in-Office of the South East European Cooperation Process, Bulgaria initiated a Joint Statement on Migration and has put security and migration as a priority in the region.

The Balkans today are frontline and first on the line to protect Europe. I wish to see the Balkans become a frontline of stability and prosperity, a frontline of tolerance and peaceful coexistence of different religions and ethnic minorities. As a Bulgarian president I say: “We want borders to fall and not to be moved”. We have a balanced and a principle foreign policy, we want to be friends with everyone. Because everyone can and must contribute to peace and stability. The close cooperation on migration and countering radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism is another example that the EU and the Balkans belong together.

The EU integration process is also a historical chance for the Western Balkans countries to leave behind the heavy burden of conflicts. Nationalistic doctrines that led to atrocities belong to the past. Therefore, strengthening good neighborly relations is fundamental for the enlargement policy and a clear indicator, whether the aspiring countries have sincerely embraced core EU values. Bulgaria plays an important role to strengthen EU’s expertise in the region. We strongly support the regional cooperation and work for reconciliation, connectivity and integration. The Summit of the South-East European Cooperation Process held in Sofia last week, marked the very successful Bulgarian presidency and the 20th anniversary of this format, which has proved to be the authentic voice of the region.

Dear friends,

We need to team up and develop common strategies, rather than building fortresses to defend shortsighted national interests. We have to engage leaders from political, economic and civil society sectors, and not just to talk and discuss, but to implement, to contribute, to solve the problems. As new economic, demographic and political powers emerge, this underlines the necessity to intensify the links with partners that share our values. Transatlantic relations are strategically important in the face of growing challenges to our liberal-democratic model.

A bright future for Europe requires devising a new economic model – one that can respond to the upcoming challenges and make use of the wide range of opportunities. The new economic model of Europe has to be dynamic and open. We need to embrace new approaches and mechanisms. We should not fear phenomena like the collaborative and sharing economy, or e-commerce – instead, we must welcome them and use all innovations in the most productive way. Europe must become the leader of the new industrial revolution, of disruptive innovation and digital technologies. Europe of the future is Europe of entrepreneurs, of technology and innovation and we all want a dynamic, flexible and adaptable Europe, one that unites and leads.

What do we need to do? We need prevention – to be proactive, early detect and solve the crises. We need to calibrate and have a focus – choose one crises, get it solved and be proud you did it in a European way, in our own way. We need to take bold political decisions. Our union badly needs exactly that today, when it’s hard and difficult. We need to empower diplomacy – negotiate, negotiate and do not fight, because the use of weapons is a proof that you have no arguments. We need to give way to principles, not interest. To reconfirm, not to renegotiate, the principles of rule of law, human rights and freedoms, territorial integrity, sovereignty and inviolability of the borders of each and every state in Europe and the world.  

Yes, we face years of growing risks and uncertainty, as we are moving into a more unstable world order. And yes, it will take time until a new balance is reached in a new multipolar world. In this transitional period we have to build and rebuild a more resilient regional and world order through our joint efforts. We should promote institutional reforms, diplomacy and principles. We should support leaders that understand that differences should be resolved peacefully and not through proxy and propaganda wars. And we need to be firm, because if we are not, we will encourage irresponsible leaders to destabilize further.

Dear friends,

The European Union is a daily plebiscite on our desire to live together. History shows that without constant efforts everything we’ve gained, can be lost. The debates on migration, Brexit, populists and Euro-sceptics, only reaffirm that conclusion. Today, more than ever, we need to bring back confidence in the vitality, in the lack of alternative of our European Project. We need to dispel the doubts of Europeans and reassure them we know where we are heading to.

Today’s Europe raises more questions than answers. Our citizens demand security in an increasingly more insecure world and ask themselves, how we can live in harmony with our neighbours. The balance between rights and responsibilities in European society is an irrevocable part of the answer. We need to show to the outside world and to our citizens, that we believe in and we are ready to enhance our potential. Issues like terrorism, migration, frozen conflicts cannot be handled without treating the root causes – geopolitical frustrations and heavy conflicts. This makes it necessary to strengthen our crisis management structures and enhance the role of strategic planning in European foreign and security policy.

But we need to be realists. Many of our problems have European roots – social exclusion, marginalization, bad education, ineffective dialogue between religions. This mix of problems creates conditions for radicalization. Terrorism starts where education fails. Many of the terrorists and foreign terrorist fighters are Europeans. We do not forget our moral obligation to be a land of freedom, human rights for the oppressed and the endangered. But we also represent rules and values that outline rights and responsibilities. Integration and education is a commitment for both host societies and migrants.

Today, it is obvious, more than ever, that without a clear policy and solutions conducted through dialogue, citizens fears will be exploited by populists. Without a realistic approach, it would be difficult to parry the speculations that someone wants to build Europe behind the back of the Europeans. Populists and nationalists are forcing us to make a choice – between the values we inherited from the Founding fathers and the imperatives of security for our citizens. We choose both! We choose values and security. We see no contradiction between keeping our borders safe and sticking to the human rights and freedoms. And we see the difference between nationalists and patriots. A great European president – president de Gaulle once said “patriots are those who love their country, nationalists are those who hate the different”. Today, more than ever, we need modern patriotism, not aggressive nationalism in Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Uniformity of principles and all-inclusiveness in the process of integration into the EU is key for the future of our European project. It is clear that national societies are different and have different historically motivated reactions to events. In the diversity of our history and culture lies the richness of Europe. This, however, should not be a cause for changing the nature of the European Project by initiating a “Europe on two or many speeds”.

The equality of European engagement has a direct relevance for our own European identity. Even the suspicion that we can accept Europe to be built “on different speeds” sends a message of doubt for the European Project. It insinuates inequality. It would be a mistake to underestimate the potential for development of some parts of Europe – for example the Balkans. It would be a historic mistake not to support them or leave them to the outside influences from former empires. European nations should not be played against one another, regardless of interest. There can be only one answer – more solidarity with those countries that have a longer road ahead of them. Especially in a period of challenges this solidarity should go beyond the instruments of cohesion policy and be a part of every European policy.

No matter what the outcome of the UK referendum is, the discussion about Europe’s many speeds will continue. We need to avoid the destructive nature of the discussion about ‘Europe a la carte’. We cannot pick and choose solidarity and turn the EU into a sum of transactional relationships. Because each country has different issues to deal with, “zero sum” games have had terrible outcomes in the past. We all need to listen better to our partners.

Bulgaria is an example of a middle-size member state that turned from peripheral into a front-line country: on Ukraine, Russia, migration. Our borders are Europe’s borders, our neighbours are Europe’s neighbours. We have difficult choices to make, but we never think of sacrificing European solidarity. Because we, Bulgarians, have learned that you cannot change geography, but only through European integration can turn the risks of geography into opportunity.

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Certainly, European democracies are not perfect. Often, and not without reasons, they are criticized. We are not perfect, but we are better than many other. We cannot convince the Euro-sceptics, but we should mobilize the pro–Europeans.  I want to make it clear – all predictions for failure and even disintegration of the European Union are wrong, are false! We have seen many crises in our history. The cure is clear: More solidarity, humanity and empathy. More rule of law. More synergies. More education. More integration. The first democratically elected Bulgarian president Zhelju Zhelev used to say: “You can cure democracy only with more democracy”. I am confident that we will tackle the challenges without diminishing our core values. We’ve done it more than once before. It would be a mistake if some read our tolerance as weakness. On the contrary, it is a clear sign of strength and determination to defend our way of life.

The history of the European Union has taught us that in times of hardship only integration works. The only weapon we have to achieve peace, security and human development is integration. Not a single country can cope with the challenges alone. Erecting borders – no matter whether they are territorial, economic or legal – is a tempting, yet temporary and not sustainable solution.

The challenges ahead of us are very serious and we cannot afford to wait, delay or shift the problems to the next government or generation. We need to act, we need to take decisions. Being indifferent is not an option today. We need to address the problems and have a plan how to solve them.

There are many crises. One of them is that today Russia doesn’t support the principles of international order. Kremlin is opposing us and is trying to destabilize the EU, by bringing mistrust to the very core of our project. It is trying to destroy and bring down the foundations of the European Union, which are unity, solidarity and rule of law. Moscow initiated a vast propaganda operation in Europe that spreads messages of mistrust, not values. The goal is to undermine the trust of people in the EU. And that is the biggest danger – to erode the trust of Europeans in integration and our common destiny. To open the door for ghosts from the past – nationalism, populism, Great Powers and spheres of influence, interests that prevail and oppose principles and values.

And it seems like they are succeeding. It looks like we are not making any progress now. We are stuck, and we’ve stopped the only engine we have – integration. We are pulling the break on enlargement, on Schengen and others. What we need to do is to open the door. Bring fresh air and new horizon! Turn on our engine of integration! Start new projects of integration! What we need to do is to reaffirm and strengthen the foundations of our order and values, but also adapt and open up to the fast changing world. We need to integrate, not isolate. We need to look ahead, not behind. Europe has a meaningful global role to play and needs to mobilize, to start new projects of integration.

And we need to make the difference between technique and content. The future of Europe does not depend so much on technique – euro funds and directives, crises management and others. The future of Europe depends on the content, on the very core sense who we are.  And that is rule of law. The future of Europe depends on not to forget the big ideas and just stuck in technique. Not to lose the big picture. The big question is, what our vision for Europe is? How do we add value to the work of the previous generation and to the vision of the founding fathers?  I wander what was in the minds of the founding fathers of the European Union. What was in the minds of those great Europeans 70 years ago, right after the devastation from the Second World War, when everybody hated everyone in Europe? They knew that peace is only possible when nations get such a level of cooperation, that makes future war impossible. And they started to integrate – steel markets, coal markets and others. Their idea was not to weaken the national states, but to make them stronger in a union. Bulgaria was always weak, when it was alone. Bulgaria is today a strong and proud member state of the EU and NATO.

The very big question is where do we want to be by 2030 or 2050? Of course we will be solving the migration, the banking, the debt and other crises. But is that all? Do we want just to deal with crises management by jumping from one crises to another? This is just technique, not a dream or vision. I want that we all continue dreaming and make history as our founding fathers did. I want that we all start new engines of integration – the enlargement process, more efficient and coordinated common European foreign, defense and security policy, the European Energy Union, the Single Digital Market, the EU Capital Markets Union and others. And let us continue, write and make the history of a strong European Union with strong and prosperous member states. If we forget or do not have a cause any more, someone else will focus on us as a convenient opponent. If we stop making history, somebody else will. As some want to question and destabilize our foundations, let us give a new, extra dose of trust in our European Union!  Let’s give it now and let’s give it together!

Thank you!