SPEECHES AND STATEMENTS
Statement Made by President Rumen Radev During His Annual Press Conference Held on the Occasion of His First year since he Took Office
One year ago, Mrs. Iliyana Yotova and I entered this building, supported by the trust of over 2 million Bulgarian nationals. After 12 very dynamic months, it is time to make an overview on our activities. In my report I cover the most important decisions made under the President's constitutional powers, make a brief overview of today's reality, and outline the main directions for further action.
My term in office began with the formation of a caretaker government. Professor Gerdzhikov’s cabinet impeccably fulfilled its main mission. It organized the general elections excellently. A National Framework Agreement was signed in the sector of healthcare. The government showed mettle and collected millions of overdue receivables and fees. State-damaging governance schemes were broken up. Sofia Airport concession procedure was justifiably suspended. The caretaker government I appointed revoked Regulation 208 on the integration of foreigners, which lacked any clear criteria and mechanisms. However, the incumbent government quickly restored the regulation without making any assessment of the risks to national security and without any thorough revision. After consultations with all political parties represented in parliament I handed over the mandate for the formation of a government to the leader of GERB, Mr. Borisov.
During my first year in office I promulgated 86 laws and vetoed five of them. I exercised this right in the interest of Bulgarian people, guided by my belief that these laws prejudice or do not guarantee people's rights. Four of the vetoes were overridden, while two achieved results – the Concessions Act and the 2018 National Health Insurance Budget Act. Lifting the moratorium on new medicines preserved the hope of many severely ill Bulgarians. I thank parliament for taking into account the arguments laid down in the veto. In compliance with my commitments, I approached the Constitutional Court about the ratification of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). I returned for reconsideration the nominee of the Supreme Judicial Court for chairman of the Supreme Administrative Court with the strong belief that the judicial reform requires that the newly-elected council members should prove the legitimacy of this nomination.
Foreign policy is one of the areas in which the President has clear powers. During the past months I was unswervingly guided by the principles that Bulgarian foreign policy should be designed at home and supported abroad, and not the other way round. It must win friends and partners, not enemies. I accepted part of the invitations and made 22 visits abroad during my first year in office. From February until May 2017, I represented Bulgaria at four sessions of the EU Council, at which I proposed and provided arguments in support of the position that Cohesion Policy should be a priority in the Rome Declaration. I raised the issue that the EU should take a common stand in the event of interference in the elections of an EU member state. I called for genuine solidarity with first-line countries vis-à-vis the migration crisis and for the revision of the Dublin Regulation.
I initiated the development of an EU Operational Action Plan for action in the event of heightened migratory pressure on our border. I put forward arguments in support of Bulgaria's accession to the Schengen zone. I drew the attention to security, the prospects of the Western Balkans countries' EU integration and connectivity. I signed the Rome Declaration.
In this period I held meetings with almost all Heads of State and governments of the Balkans. I set the beginning of a normalization of relations with Russia, which are strategically important not only for Bulgaria, but also for Europe. I believe that in 2018, the year of the 140th anniversary of Bulgaria's liberation from Ottoman rule, Bulgarian-Russian relations should be taken out of the ice age in which I found them.
In the past months I represented Bulgaria at the UN General Assembly session, the NATO Summit, the World Climate Summit in Paris, the Three Seas Forum, and the Munich Security Conference.
I believe that Bulgaria needs to be actively present and support all multilateral cooperation formats, which are necessary tools to preserve peace and curb the effects of spontaneous globalization.
I had the privilege of being the first Head of State accepted by the UNESCO new director general, Mrs. Audrey Azoulay, with whom we discussed important projects in the area of culture and education. Under my auspices, business forums were held in Berlin, Bucharest and Warsaw, at the last of which important contracts worth 35 million euros were signed.
Our relations with Azerbaijan have shown that when the presidential institution and the government take harmonious actions, the results are in place. The direct flight service Baku-Sofia is the result of our common efforts. The government accepted as a real commitment my invitation to President Aliyev for his country to participate in Bulgaria’s domestic gasification.
A particularly important moment of my tours was the meetings with the Bulgarian communities abroad – my meetings with Bulgarians in the US, Germany, France, Romania, Poland, Greece and Cyprus. I was impressed by their considerable efforts to preserve the ties with their homeland and their identity. The presidential institution makes efforts to help them. In the US and France the question was raised about recognizing the Bulgarian language at the matriculation level. The fact that Ivo Antonov was released from a Greek prison showed that the Bulgarian state is close to every citizen, no matter where they are in the world. I would like to thank the Greek president for the assistance provided. I would like to highlight Mrs. Iotova’s intense activity related to the historically formed Bulgarian communities abroad.
As Supreme Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, I devoted a big part of my work to strengthening the sector of national security, which is admittedly in a deplorable state. At the Consultative Council for National Security held in May an important consensus was reached on national priorities in this sector – regulatory reform, integrated development, speeding up modernization and, most importantly, – improving the working conditions for the personnel. With few exceptions, the consensus did not materialize into action. On the contrary, the parliamentary commission set up to tackle the issue of the new aircraft fighter blocked the modernization of the Armed Forces. The Defense Ministry was forced to make huge investments in outdated military vehicles. However, this did not happen either, due to the lack of prepared contracts at the year's end, which further aggravated the situation – neither new, nor repaired old equipment. Ultimately the hundreds of millions in budget allocations were lost in the well-known mechanism of spending the budget surplus. The staffing problems remain unsolved both in terms of equipment and motivation. The pay increase realized by Defense Minister did not meet public expectations.
The Consultative Council for National Security on Bulgaria’s role in EU's common security and defense policy was a follow-up of the conference held in Sofia in July, which I initiated and which was attended by European Commissioner Bienkowska and the Director of the European Defense Agency. The Council made important proposals related to the Bulgarian Armed Forces, research and development of the defense industry and their efficient integration within the European defense system, and also on affirming Bulgaria’s position as a factor for stability in the Balkans.
What I failed to achieve was to convince the power holders of the need to a make a prompt revision of the National Plan on increasing the defense spending to 2 percent of the GDP by 2024. In its present form it cannot possibly reverse the trend of declining defense capabilities. It is not until September that the plan will be revised and the results remain unclear. We should realize that security and sovereignty are the external framework without which any talk about democracy, prosperity and culture remains only wishful thinking given the arbitrary acts of all kinds of destructive factors. Therefore the promotion of Bulgaria's sovereignty and security, which cannot be taken for granted but require constant efforts, was one of the highlights of my activity.
The intense work with the Interior Ministry, the security services and the Prosecutor’s Office helped counter any attempts at external interference in the election process. Measures were taken to neutralize the many-year attempts to isolate part of the Muslim population. A restrictive administrative measure was imposed on five foreign citizens. The practice of paying Muslim clergymen from outside Bulgaria was terminated. At the consultations on forming a government and at the Consultative Council held on 30 May, I insisted on and was assured that legislative amendments should be made so that the state covers the pay of the clergymen from all religious denominations. Furthermore efforts will be directed toward the instruction of all Muslim clergymen in Bulgaria, so that the unique Bulgarian model of peaceful and harmonious coexistence of different ethnic groups that has stood the test of time be strengthened. Thus our Muslims, which are an indispensable and important part of our society, will be protected from the aspirations of foreign factors that have self-seeking interests. However, none of these has taken place so far. Moreover the necessary budget funds were not allocated in the 2018 budget.
A big part of my efforts were directed at the construction of an efficient model to fight corruption. I declassified and made public the records of the consultative meetings at the President’s Office on Corporate Commercial Bank so that the people get to know some of the truth about this high-profile case that inflicted damage to our country and society. This action largely contributed to restoring public trust in the presidential institution. However, the citizens expect to hear the whole truth from the court.
At the consultative councils on counteracting corruption, an agreement was not reached on the principles and directions for building an efficient anti-corruption model. However, the debate exposed the positions of all participants. The now effective law is simply inefficient and creates the risk of abuse of office and embezzlement. It will not improve the crime solvency rate and criminal prosecution. The leadership of the new anti-corruption body will be elected by the majority in parliament, which also elects the government. This creates the most serious risk for corruption, given that there is no balance between the institutions in deciding the members of this authority, which raises the question of its independence. Clearly aware of its inefficiency, I vetoed the whole law. Those in power passed the law, thus formally fulfilling their commitments to the European Commission, but failing to fulfill those to the Bulgarian people. It is evident that the people and the media have to carry out the fight against corruption in the future.
Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen, Bulgaria is at a critical stage of its development. Bulgaria launched ambitiously its presidency of the EU Council and the President’s Office is actively contributing in this respect. However, the EU Council Presidency should not suspend democracy or silence public debate. The EU Council Presidency is not an alibi for doing nothing about pressing domestic policy issues. Macroeconomic performance is good, but it cannot cover up other alarming statistics. The level of foreign investments is extremely low. There is an ongoing depopulation in vast areas of the country, and the demographic trends are disastrous.
Against this backdrop, the much proclaimed stability sounds like marching in place. The parliamentary republic is degenerating. Parliament is turning into a notary's office engaged in endorsing government decisions. The partisan mechanisms in parliament kill the free will of deputies. Public trust in the National Assembly is critically low. I say this with pain and concern because this is the superior political authority in the state. When the National Assembly is weak, all other institutions are also weak.
Corruption and injustice demoralize the whole society. During this third decade of reforms and changes, a fundamental human right has been jeopardized - the freedom of speech. Bulgarian society must fight for this sacred right, and this depends on the integrity and will of every media owner, journalist and analyst, as well as on the will of every viewer or reader, who also make a choice. This is not only a matter of politics but also of a proactive civil society. We must stand up for our democratic rights and not just rely on Europe for understanding and assistance. This is the conclusion that we can draw from Brussels’ attitude to the problems in Bulgaria. Indifference should not demotivate us, but should increase our fervor instead. This is not a battle for condescension but for our basic human rights.
Given the current situation, my activity as President next year will be focused on defending civil rights in Bulgaria, guaranteeing national sovereignty and security, imposing the rule of law. I will insist on transparency vis-à-vis issues of ownership, governance decisions and public spending. I will promote public debate on the freedom of speech. I will continue working for reforms in the judicial system and amending the anti-corruption legislation, which should meet the high public expectations. There is no alternative to the implementation of e-governance, and it should no longer be delayed. My tours across Bulgaria convinced me that government decentralization is essential if we want to have an active and committed public and to overcome severe regional disparities.
Prompt measures should be taken in the education system, and they should pertain not only to salaries and school renovation, but also to creating a system for the development of up-to-date competencies in the young people, to stimulating research and innovations.
In terms of foreign policy, I will continue to pursue an active policy in the Balkans and Europe to ensure security, stability and prosperity, to ensure Bulgaria’s full integration in the European structures and initiatives. Therefore continuity of the priorities between the trio in the EU Council Presidency is important, Bulgaria and Austria, and in the long term between Austria and Romania. In this respect I will organize in Rousse in May a meeting of the Presidents of Estonia, Austria and Romania. This will help prioritizing in the long term of Bulgaria's strategic priorities. Moreover, the major focus of our meeting, at which mayors, students from the towns near the Danube will be invited, will be the Danube Strategy. Although this strategy was not included among the priorities of the Bulgarian Presidency, it is crucial to the development of North Bulgaria. Strengthening the strategic for Bulgaria trans-Atlantic cooperation is particularly important. We should also invigorate our relations with the countries from the Middle East and the Far East, Northern Africa and Central Asia, with which we enjoyed intense trade relations in the past and which have a high investment potential. Within this effort, important visits in Bulgaria and abroad are forthcoming.
In the security sector, I will continue to insist that an integrated approach to problem solving be adopted. Without such an approach, we will invariably suffer from underfunding. Defence planning should be a comprehensive and long-term process, which should take into account the dynamically changing threats and the nature of conflicts. I will continue to work to ensure that Bulgarian science and industry are integrated in the European projects and initiatives. I will follow whether the program for the development of Armed Forces’ defense capabilities “2030”is drafted in a timely manner and whether the National plan for increasing defense spending to 2 percent of the GDP by 2024 is revised. It is high time we realized that the security policy is no longer a purely military issue, but a new engine of the EU integration. Any underestimation in the defense sphere creates a risk of leaving us outside these integration processes. I will continue to insist that laws and budgets be adopted that will end the use of religion for political purposes and thwart any attempts at keeping religious communities enclosed and exposed to foreign interests.
Esteemed Ladies and Gentlemen, I think that nationwide efforts to overcome the moral crisis in Bulgarian Society are needed in the following months and years. The crisis has created the breeding ground for corruption, crime, and political apathy. An attack against the freedom of speech has been launched. We should all join in this effort and nobody will do that instead of us.
I would like to avail myself of the occasion that my team is here and thank it for its selfless work throughout the whole year. I would like to emphasize another extremely important thing. In the past year we proved that President and Vice-president can efficiently work as a team and our results show it.
Thank you for your attention!