Bulgaria PM will ask EU leaders to stop criticising Erdogan

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (L), European Council President Donald Tusk (C) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker leave a press conference at the end of the second day of an European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium, 29 June 2018. [Stephanie Lecocq/EPA/EFE]

European Council President Donald Tusk strongly opposed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday (11 October), warning him to stop blackmailing Europe. That has prompted Bulgaria’s prime minister to reveal he will ask EU chiefs to tone down their stance against Erdoğan.

A day earlier, Erdoğan had threatened to send 3.6 million refugees to Europe if leaders continued to call the northern Syrian operation an “invasion”.

During a visit to Cyprus, Tusk said that “Turkey must understand that our primary concern is that their actions could lead to another humanitarian catastrophe, which would be unacceptable”.

The Council chief added that “we will never accept that refugees are weaponised and used to blackmail us. President Erdoğan’s threats of yesterday are totally out of place.”

However, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Saturday that he would “ask my colleagues in Brussels to stop the continuous attacks”.

He added that “Brussels is far away and the Turkish border is close and there are close to four million refugees and no fence, army, whatever measures can stop the migrants when they start coming with hundreds of thousands.”

It is not the first time that Borissov has positioned himself as the mouthpiece of Erdoğan in the EU. The Bulgarian PM was instrumental for the EU-Turkey summit in Varna in 2018, which achieved little, but which was a good public relations exercise for the Turkish president.

The main topic of the 17-18 October summit in Brussels will be how to prevent a no-deal Brexit but other topical issues will be discussed, including Turkey’s Syria invasion.

Erdoğan relies on Borissov, also on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to play the role of internal opposition in the EU against those criticising the Turkish operation, and those who find Erdoğan’s continuing insults against the EU intolerable.

Unlike Bulgaria, Hungary is not a front-line country in case of a new wave of immigrant arrivals. But it was thanks to Hungarian pressure that the word “Kurds” is missing in the EU response to the Turkish invasion.

The Brief, powered by the Martens Centre – A missing EU word, a lost EU state

Turkish forces have launched airstrikes this week and advanced deeper into Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria during the second day of Ankara’s invasion in the region. The EU sat on its hands and then came up with a cautious, watered-down statement. Why?

Borissov has agreed with Erdoğan to return to him so-called “Gülenists” – accused of perpetrating a failed coup against the president – who cross the border to seek asylum in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria returns alleged Gülenists to Turkey

Bulgaria has recently extradited to Turkey at least six people who allegedly are related to the network of preacher Fetullah Gülen, considered by Ankara a terrorist organisation.

In return, Turkey accepts back all the refugees who cross the fence erected by Bulgaria at the border.

There is no internal pressure from Bulgarian civil society on the government to respect the basic human rights of asylum-seekers. This allows Borissov to cultivate a unique relationship with Erdoğan.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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