SPEECHES AND STATEMENTS
Opening Address by President Rosen Plevneliev on the 12th Meeting of the Heads of State of the Arraiolos Group
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
Welcome to hospitable and sunny Bulgaria for the 12th meeting of the heads of state of the Arraiolos Group. It is a special pleasure to welcome you today in Plovdiv, the city situated on seven hills, just like Rome. Plovdiv is one of the most ancient cities in the world and the oldest, still inhabited city in Europe, a witness to the heyday of eight civilizations and cultures – the prehistoric, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, proto-Bulgarian, Osman, old Bulgarian National Revival as well as modern Bulgarian culture. Plovdiv’s perfectly preserved antique monuments, splendidly decorated Revival houses, museums and galleries make it an open-sky treasury and it was not by accident that it was chosen the 2019 European capital of culture. The building of the Ethnographic museum where we stand today is a bold and beautiful example of the cultural roots of the modern Bulgarian State. The picture you see right next to me is authored by the Czech painter and first rector of the National Academy of Arts Ivan Mrkvi?ka; it shows the wealth of colour and ethnic diversity of the Plovdiv habitat in the end of the 19th century. Mrkvi?ka‘s painting is particularly valuable in Bulgarian art for being an authentic depiction of the peaceful cohabitation of various ethnicities and religions in Plovdiv and Bulgaria that we take such pride in. And tomorrow we shall continue our discussion in the Bulgarian history repository, the National Museum of History in Sofia where you would have the chance to take a glimpse of some of Bulgarian lands’ millennial history.
The significance of the Arraiolos Group’s meetings is incontestable. Every year the heads of state of twelve EU Member States review the challenges before the Union and look together for solutions.
Today we seek the answer to the question how to enhance the trust in the EU during a time of increasing risks and international instability. Europe cannot be an island of stability in the ocean of global instability today. We live in times of multiple interacting crises that make the international environment even more unpredictable. Our peoples feel that insecurity. What they expect from politicians is to act decisively, to solve and not to deepen the problems. The crises we have confronted have led to an erosion of public confidence in the European institutions. It is our responsibility to revive the trust and reinforce the European project’s foundations.
Tomorrow we shall focus on the Balkans and their historic transformation: from a playground of the Great Powers towards an integral part of united Europe. We are witnessing more and more often the come back to wrong ideologies from the past, like an unlearned lesson from history. The challenges we stand for are reminiscent of the times when the interests – and not the principles, dominated the international arena. The Balkans have been denoted for a long time Europe’s powder keg for its strategic location and geopolitical confrontation of the Great Powers that led to destructive wars and conflicts. Today the region is dominated by cooperation and friendship. We are the eyewitnesses of a historical transformation; yet the Balkans need a tough support to go on forward and follow the road of their European and democratic development.
The world has lost its balance. It will take a while to have a new sustainable world order in place. We are in a phase of transition – from a post-Second World War world order that we lost to a new sustainable world order in a global multipolar world that we still have to build.
During this transition period, like any transition period, we observe turbulences. We live in difficult times of a record number of crises, refugees, conflicts, military exercises, propaganda, cyber and hybrid attacks. Global and regional powers stand against each other demonstrating their claims and ambitions for redistribution of spheres of influence. The global institutions such as the UN and the Security Council are not capable of guaranteeing effectively the international rule of law and are in need of deep reforms. Today Europe faces more problems than it ever did in the post-World War Two period. Unfortunately at this crucial time the European Union looks weak and divided. The EU is undergoing currently not one but eleven crises: migration; terrorism; Grexit and the Eurozone crisis; Brexit; the crisis in Ukraine; the EU – Russia relations crisis; economic and debt crisis; unemployment and particularly youth unemployment crisis; ground-gaining nationalism and populism crisis; a Schengen area crisis; and the worst of all crises – a moral crisis of challenging the European values and lack of solidarity and unity in finding sustainable solutions. Today, more than ever before, we need European unity. The European Union is a family. And during hard times the family unites, each member contributing to the process. Today is not the time for national egoism. None of the crisis can be managed by the nation-state alone. Each of the problems we face can be solved in a sustainable way, only as common European solution.
Today Bulgaria is contributing to the European unity by leading a balanced and principled foreign policy of a worthy member of the EU and NATO. We work for a strong EU, capable of declaring its global ambitions of being an inalienable factor on the international arena, of guaranteeing peace, security and prosperity on the European continent. To that end we must launch new integration projects because the only weapon we have is European unity and integration. Examples of such new European integration projects are the European energy union, the European defence initiative, the European digital union, EU enlargement to the Western Balkans. The European energy union for instance will benefit everyone by guaranteeing independent gas sources. A typical example how a strong EU, means strong nation-states. Let us, during hard times, show our ambition to be a global factor. Let us pick a crisis from the eleven crises we face and solve it in a sustainable manner, in a European manner so that we may take pride in this. Let us demonstrate that the EU is one strong, effective and united family.
Two opposite worlds collide in Europe today – the 19th century Europe of great powers playing into spheres of influence, and the 21st century Europe of the rule of law, peace and integration. While many politicians nowadays reason by the category of the Realpolitik of 19th century, we would like to give an impetus to the Europe of the 21st century: Europe of dignity and equality of all States, of the rule of law rather than power and individual interests. I am positive this is what people are expecting. The European citizens today take peace, open markets and open borders for granted; however they are concerned about migration, terrorism, unemployment, bureaucracy, political elites’ fading representativeness and legitimacy as well as the loss of national identity. The response is the rise of populist and Eurosceptical parties and as a result an inability to solve crisis in a sustainable manner. Ageing population, poor demographics, insecure external borders, growing internal fragmentation, painful debt crisis, difficult economic and employment perspectives, terrorism in the heart of the Union, the narrowly avoided Grexit, mass unemployment and drastic budget restrictions hit hard many of the Union Member States. In turn the migration crisis has brought new division lines, while the dependence on Europe’s gate keepers such as Turkey, Egypt, Libya and others will only be growing.
For a first time in many a year security in Europe is the utmost priority. Many prominent European politicians are now talking about a new block confrontation, this time not between communism and capitalism, but rather about a conflict of the right public order – a fight about geopolitical spheres of influence or a fight about freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights. Too many European politicians cross the border of populism. More and more citizens fall for the aura of strong leaders, underestimating the most essential –institutions and rule of law.
The nationalist parties that feed people’s fears are gaining speed. Hate, racism, xenophobia, populism and aggressive nationalism are on the rise again. It is precisely at times like these that is absolutely essential to demonstrate the strength of our values and unity. The European Union is first and foremost a union of values. Once the values are gone, we will be left with only geopolitics and interests. And if we choose to stay on the surface of geopolitics and narrow national interests, then we choose to go back to the 19th century.
There are a lot of problems and a lot of work to be done today in Europe. What must we do? We must avoid any further escalation. We must take one crisis at a time and deal with it in a fast and sustainable manner, making progress on the other ones at the same time. To overcome the crises, it is absolutely essential that we remain united. The unity of EU Member States is the key to peace and stability in Europe.We must strengthen EU institutions to solve crises. Europe needs visionaries to look forward; but to go forward, however, Europe needs strong institutions. Each and every one must contribute to restoring the trust in the European institutions. Brussels is not a convenient excuse for national failures. Instead of using Brussels as an excuse, each and every one must support Brussels.
Today’s crises do not require ad hoc solutions. Just the opposite. They highlight the pressing need for better long-term and coordinated decision-making. Cooperation is no longer a matter of choice but of necessity.
Our main objective today is not to allow Europe to fall into a crisis of European values, lack of solidarity or unity. We should stand abreast regardless whether we are discussing migration or security. Every member of our family must contribute to this process. We cannot afford to ignore a single Member State. Today none of the EU Member States is periphery.
Bulgaria is part of the European solution and acts in a reliable and responsible manner. Despite the challenges Bulgaria has successfully managed to become a factor of stability in the EU and on the Balkans. We have played our role of a reliable partner, a good neighbor and pro-European force in the region
The European Union is the most successful process of States’ integration in the world. This has brought peace, cooperation and prosperity to Europe’s peoples. Despite the achievements of the European project, we should not take modern Europe for granted. Democracy is a daily process and it is up to each and every one of us to protect it.
The world that we live in is no doubt changing fast. The responsibility to draw attention to the important issues that will form the next decades falls on us, the political leaders. Only a consistent long-term vision with clear priorities will allow us to successfully meet the future challenges. Only a strong European Union can guarantee peace and democracy in Europe. The discussions we will hold today will help us draw a successful way forward to achieving the result we all desire.
Bulgaria proudly hosts the annual meeting of the heads of State of the Arraiolos Group and I am positive that we will demonstrate our unity and our desire to find workable solutions in order to inspire a new sparkle of confidence in this unique union of peace and democracy that the European Union is. I would like once again to welcome you and to wish you successful and productive discussions.