Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov failed on Monday (2 March) in his mediation mission in Ankara which aimed to bring Greece, Turkey and EU leaders to a summit in Sofia to prevent a new refugee crisis in Europe.
However, he won assurances from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Ankara would honour its commitment not to allow migration pressure on Bulgaria.
Indeed, while Turkey is sending busloads of migrants to its border with Greece, the situation at the Bulgarian border, a few kilometres away, remains calm.
Speaking at a press conference after a working dinner with Erdoğan, Borissov admitted that his host did not want to sit at the same table with Greek Prime Minister Kiriakos Mitsotakis. Greece is determined not to allow the migrants to cross into its territory and uses sound grenades and teargas to prevent them from illegal crossing.
Erdoğan accused the Greek security forces of killing two and seriously injuring three of the migrants who wanted to cross on Monday. Athens dismissed the allegations as “fake news”.
The Turkish president also accused Greece of violating international refugee conventions by closing its borders to migrants.
“These people leave our country of their free will,” he said.
Borissov admitted his plan to organise a big diplomatic meeting had failed, hinting that the reason was police violence at the Greek border.
He had planned to organise a meeting in Sofia on Friday with Erdoğan, Mitsotakis, Merkel and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. Germany takes over the presidency from Croatia in the second half of 2020.
“I put a lot of effort into organising a tripartite meeting in a larger format,” Borissov said and added:
“But then, we received information about the migrants killed. Some of my colleagues did not hesitate to post opinions on the web,” he said, without mentioning names.
“At the same time, the President [Erdoğan] was ready to come to Sofia on Friday, but his unwillingness to sit at a table with his colleague Mitsotakis cooled my desire to hold this meeting,” Borissov continued.
Erdoğan accused the EU of having “double standards” and failing to comply with its commitments to Turkey on the migrant issue. The EU has previously dismissed such accusations as unfounded. It has financed the support of refugees on Turkish territory since 2016 with €6 billion.
“We no longer want that money”, Erdoğan said. “No one has the right to mock the dignity of Turkey.”
He stated that the Bulgarian position should set an example for all EU countries.
“I would like to express my satisfaction with the sound mindset of Bulgaria under the leadership of … Boyko Borissov,
Bulgaria is the only country in the EU which automatically returns Turkish fugitives to Ankara.
The Bulgarian prime minister thanked Erdoğan for respecting the agreement to curb illegal migration in regard to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. In his words, the leaders’ meeting reaffirmed this commitment.
Borissov also welcomed the upcoming talks between Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Thursday in Moscow, where they will seek a solution to the conflict in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, which has driven more than one million refugees from their homes.
The heads of the Commission, the Parliament and the Council are going to Greece on Tuesday and visit the area of its border with Turkey.
EU Commission President @vonderleyen and @EP_President David Sassoli will join @eucopresident Charles Michel and me tomorrow on the Greek-Turkish land border.
Important statement of support by all 3 institutions at a time when Greece is successfully defending EU borders.
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) March 2, 2020
The Bulgarian prime minister has acted as Erdoğan’s advocate in the EU for many years. In 2018 he helped organise a high-level EU-Turkey meeting with Erdoğan, despite tensions over Turkish drilling in the Cyprus economic zone.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]