Bulgaria is trying to overcome a communication problem with the Commission while struggling hard to deliver on commitments to fight corruption and organised crime, the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin says in an interview with EURACTIV.
Ivaylo Kalfin is foreign minister and a deputy prime minister of Bulgaria. An economist by training, he was formerly a member of Parliament and a manager and senior partner in consulting companies.
Mr. Minister, how can you describe Bulgaria’s efforts to avoid any sanctions that the Commission’s monitoring report due in July may propose?
If we speak about the cooperation and verification mechanism which is designed to further promote the co-operation in justice and home affairs after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, we are expecting the visit of the European experts in the beginning of June.
In the meantime, Bulgaria has presented information on what has been done until now. So there is a regular exchange of information.
But I wouldn’t like to concentrate on the technical correspondence. I would rather like to say that the Bulgarian Government and Bulgarian society are taking rather seriously everything which is related to corruption and organised crime. There were recently major changes in the Ministry of the Interior, starting from the top of the Ministry. There are already convictions of organised criminal groups that are effective from the beginning of this year.
Yes, for a large organised group involved in drug trafficking with its centre in Burgas. There are other investigations and already concrete results.
What I see is less and less readiness from public opinion to accept whatever manifestation of corruption, especially on the high political level. Such was the case in the Ministry of the Interior, where there was a leak of information from top officers and it was not possible to continue like that.
Now all those cases are under prosecution, including a prosecution against the former Minister. That means that the system is functioning and is self-cleaning.
Given we are working very closely with our European partners, with experts from the EU, some based in Sofia, I would expect an objective report which says what has been achieved, and there are achievements, and what remains to be done. This is exactly the sense of the mechanism.
Bulgaria has recently set up a state agency for national security, dubbed “the Bulgarian FBI” by the press. Is it already operational and does it deliver results?
It is operational and it already delivers results. Some major investigations are being carried out by this agency and some cases are already in the court. The idea behind establishing this agency was having a much more co-ordinated and structured mechanism to fight organised crime and trafficking in Bulgaria.
Also a new post was established, of a Deputy Prime Minister responsible only for EU funds. It is a position that does not exist elsewhere. Bulgaria also has a European Minister, a Foreign Minister. Isn’t there some overlap?
The post of European Minister exists in many other countries, even if it is called Secretary of State or Deputy Foreign Minister.
When we speak about the absorption of funds, Bulgaria has all the necessary agencies accredited last year, but now we have this transition from the pre-accession funds to the structural and cohesion funds of the EU.
We have already started working on the structural funds and it happened that there are certain issues with the communication with the European Commission, which we need to improve decisively, and on the other hand with the control on public expenditure, be they national or European funds.
There are three areas designated by the Commission where we have to make more effort: the finalisation of the Phare program and increasing control and the audit capacity for the agricultural and cohesion funds.
These were the reasons for the appointment of the Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Plugchieva. The idea is to strengthen the co-ordination, the administrative capacity also, and to have a very clear political responsibility for the proper functioning of these various mechanisms spread out in various ministries and agencies.
I know this post is unique in the EU, but I see it as a very strong political tool to strengthen to the maximum the efficiency of the work of the agencies, to strengthen the control, also the transparency of sending the funds, and also to organise much better the relationship between the officials, the bureaucracy, and the potential beneficiaries of these funds. This post has its logic in Bulgaria.
You mentioned communication problems with the Commission, but let’s take the issue of communication in a broader sense. Is Bulgaria communicating well and is it able to project a positive image of itself?
I have to admit that there is a lot to be done in this area. Very often, not only in the European, but also in the Bulgarian press, you have only the negative sides which are picked up. To give you an example, on the last Commission report on JHA in Bulgaria, if you take the press, you will see only part of it shown, this is only what Bulgaria still has to do, and there was no information on what has already be done, although it was stated fairly in the Commission’s report. This is why we have to work much better to communicate what has been achieved.
Your Italian colleague Mr. Franco Frattini said recently one should not compare Bulgaria with some advanced EU countries, but rather with what was Bulgaria ten years ago. Do you think this is the kind of message Bulgaria needs?
Mr. Frattini knows Bulgaria’s recent years and knows the developments. He is perhaps the most competent person, having been Vice President of the Commission and responsible for Justice and Home Affairs, to see what the progress of Bulgaria has been in recent years.
But the benchmark is not the country itself, a few years back, the benchmark is meeting the European values and principles. Personally I wouldn’t use comparisons like “Bulgaria is worse than the Scandinavian countries, but perhaps better that such and such a country”. I really don’t think this is the right approach.
What we need is ensure a transparent well-functioning mechanism in the judicial system, able to prosecute crimes, to prevent the misuse of public funds and consistent with the European policies. But talking about messages I think it should be mentioned that as a EU member in the last one and a half years Bulgaria has a very good history. And if you look at the major projects in which Bulgaria took part, at some initiatives for the region, I think Bulgaria is bringing additional value to the EU.
Yes, we have some issues to address, but we are on the right way and in co-operation with the Commission and the member countries we will get there.
A famous British journalist, Misha Glenny, who knows Bulgaria well, recently wrote that Brussels was tough on Bulgaria because of crime and the mafia, but pretends not to see bigger problems with crime and the mafia in Italy. Would you subscribe to such a message?
No. Again, it shows that it is not a good idea to compare single individual countries in the EU, because we’re all quite different. We should not take comfort if somebody is worse, what we need is to deliver. I think this is the right message. It’s normal that the expectations from the latest newcomers to the EU are much higher. This is something we knew in advance, we are not surprised.