Bulgaria puts Hezbollah on EU Foreign Minister's menu
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov has put the conclusions of an investigation into a deadly bombing at Bulgaria's main airport last summer on the agenda of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday (18 February). The probe points at the military wing of Hezbollah in Lebanon, an organisation which does not appear on the EU's list of terrorist organisations.
EU ministers will listen to the presentation of the probe’s conclusion by Mladenov over lunch, and “an animated discussion” is expected to follow, an EU diplomat said.
Bulgaria recently concluded the investigation into the attack that destroyed a bus at Burgas Airport on 18 July, killing five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov on 5 February linked the attack to Hezbollah, saying that two individuals with links to the Lebanon militant group were involved in the bomb attack.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, has reacted by extreme caution so far, stopping short of linking Hezbollah to the Bulgarian attack, despite recent findings suggesting the opposite. The Iranian-backed group is currently not on the EU list of terrorist organisations.
Major EU countries such as France and the UK are apparently divided over the issue.
The UK is reportedly supportive of the results of the Bulgarian investigation and appears ready to consider adding Hezbollah to the EU's common list of terrorist organisations by putting the issue on the agenda of specialised working group in the EU Council of Ministers. The secretive Council group is called “CP 931”.
But France is taking a much more careful stance and seems prepared to question the validity of the Bulgarian investigation. The probe has been criticised internally in Bulgaria, since the government took the decision to name Hezbollah in relation to the Burgas attack even before the prosecutor general's office had ended the investigation.
Speaking to the press in Brussels on 7 February, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he took the decision to name Hezbollah following the discovery of DNA on a SIM-card at the site of the blast. He did not elaborate.
Asked by EurActiv whether they thought Bulgaria had indeed found a “smoking gun”, the answers of EU diplomats varied significantly. An EU Council representative said diplomatically that a lot would depend on the presentation and the eventual proposals by the Bulgarian minister himself.
“But many of his colleagues around the table would like to ask questions about the preliminary conclusions of this investigation,” the EU official said. He added that the investigation should continue and that Bulgaria’s EU partners and Europol were going to contribute to it.
Another EU diplomat was dismissive about adding Hezbollah to the EU's terrorist list, saying the subject was "in the air" indeed but had not been addressed in preparatory meetings for the EU's Foreign Affairs ministerial gathering next Monday (18 February).
"It is not on the agenda," he added saying Bulgaria has not mentioned the topic.
A Bulgarian investigation linked militant group Hezbollah to the terrorist attack that killed five Israeli tourists in the Burgas Black Sea resort last July.
The EU reacted cautiously to the findings, stopping short of linking Hezbollah to the attack.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said that "reflection" and "serious assessment" were needed over the outcome of the investigation.
The Iranian-backed group is currently not on the EU list of terrorist organisations.