Bulgaria marks 90th anniversary of Pan-European movement

The PanEuropa Bulgaria conference was held in Sofia on 25 April. [@PassySolomon/Twitter]

A PanEuropa Bulgaria conference was held in Sofia on 25 April to mark the 90th anniversary of the Pan-European movement in the country, and to discuss the future of the EU.

The Where Does Europe Go: Globalism vs Populism conference was attended by caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov, Vice President Iliana Iotova, the former President of Bulgaria Petar Stoyanov, and the former Prime Minister of Austria Wolfgang Schüssel, and was held under the patronage of ex-Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was heir to the Bulgarian throne.

Gergana Passy, Digital Champion of Bulgaria, the founder and president of DNA, said that it was not by chance that the event was under the patronage of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Bulgarian Pan-European movement was created by Professor Ivan Shishmanov in 1927, and it was Simeon’s father, Boris III King of Bulgaria, who sent Shishmanov to the first pan-Europe Congress which took place in Vienna, with 2000 participants from 24 countries. This turned out to be a breakthrough for the young movement, with the “Pan-European vision” becoming a synonym for the political unification of Europe. [More on the PanEuropa website.]

Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha said that as a prime minister (2001-2005) he had engaged in many efforts to make Shishmanov’s dreams come true. He said the major achievement was peace, which he called “something invaluable”, but young people today take it for granted. Bulgaria signed its EU accession agreement during his mandate in 2005 and joined the EU in 2007, under Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev.

Gerdzhikov who is still in charge pending the vote in parliament of a new government on 4 May, said EU membership had been a dream for his generation and a chance of becoming true in his lifetime.

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He said Bulgarians may not be always happy with their lives, but the country was a democracy in which the rights and freedoms of the citizens were respected, it was in partnership with the other member states, and the EU was an example for the rest of the mankind.

Iliana Iotova, a former Socialist MEP recently elected Vice President, spoke about the upcoming Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, beginning 1 January 2018. She said Bulgaria should work to reform the Dublin system for asylum, for safeguarding EU citizen’s rights in the UK following Brexit, for moving towards a European defence union, and for making sure the EU’s cohesion policy brings closer the standards of living in the Union.

Stanishev, who is now leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said that he never thought the spirit of solidarity would be so undermined as it is today. Almost all European leaders are focused on their own problems, which somewhat is justified because we live in precarious times, he said.

Speaking about Brexit, Stanishev said that if someone told him some time ago that the United Kingdom would leave the EU, he would not have believed it.

But he said there were also processes of consolidation. He said he was convinced that in France Le Pen would not become president.

Stanishev added that he wanted the Union to find a new modus vivendi, according to which all 27 will go forward together, and that the European Union would have a common migration policy and cooperate in the fight against terrorism. He also said he hoped the EU regains its social character

Socialist MEP Petar Kouroumbashev said that 60 years ago, “the spirit of the European Union has been stronger than the body”, but today it was the other way around. He also said EU politics were beginning to look like accounting.

Moderator Solomon Passy, the founder of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, asked Kouroumbashev which of today’s trends in the EU he could not have anticipated in 2005 when Bulgaria signed the accession treaty.

Kouroumbashev answered that he could never have anticipated that one of the countries which invited Bulgaria to join would leave the Union.

Indeed, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, the UK was probably the strongest advocate for Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU.

Kouroumbashev asked his interlocutors who were the biggest friends and sceptics in that period. Meglena Kuneva, who was the chief accession negotiator and later became an EU Commissioner, said that Bulgaria’s neighbours helped the most, referring to Greek governments, regardless of their political orientation.

She also said that it was during the Irish EU presidency that Bulgaria managed to close some of the toughest pre-accession chapters – the financial ones.


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