Member states may not reach a stage where they could take a vote on sanctions against Poland during Bulgaria’s six month EU presidency, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Thursday (11 January), explaining he would prefer to resolve the crisis through dialogue and avoid sanctions altogether.
“I cannot say that my Polish friends don’t respect rule of law. This is so vague in measuring. I hope the Polish people do not make us put Article 7 on the agenda… My opinion is that we should not get to this point. If we get to voting, we will have sleepless nights. I very much hope we don’t face this challenge,” Borissov told reporters who attended a session of his cabinet, ahead of the inaugural presidency ceremony in Sofia.
The Commission started the initial proceedings for the Article 7 against Poland in December, quoting a serious threat to the rule of law in the biggest eastern member state. The procedure – if supported by other member states – sets off a lengthy process that could lead to the suspension of the country’s voting rights in the Council of Ministers.
Lilyana Pavlova, the minister of the Bulgarian presidency, told journalists on Thursday that her country, which will be dictating the EU’s agenda, would tread carefully.
First discussions about Poland are due at the General Affairs Council in February, where the aim is “to start a discussion and analyse positions of each and every country, including Poland”.
The positions would then be compared and analysed and Poland would be allowed to argue its case at the next Council.
“We might go even beyond the Bulgarian presidency to have any kind of decision or voting. This does not mean we are not ambitious. We are ready to work but we have to follow the procedure and have a clear opinion from all countries,” Pavlova said.
Borissov, who has led Bulgaria since 2009, with a short hiatus in 2013, used the opportunity of facing the Brussels press corps to share his foreign policy views, particularly on Russia and Turkey. Striking a somewhat different chord than Brussels, which has sought to keep Erdogan at arms length, he asked:
“Do we have to continue worsening relations with Turkey? What will this bring?”.
This is not the first time Borissov has made such statements.
“Turkey is the southern flank of NATO. If we further worsen relations with Turkey, do we have to amend our defence agreements and our action plans?… We will always follow the European stance on Turkey, but we have to talk about that.”
He also cautioned that any further aggravation might result in Turkey opening the floodgates for thousands of refugees keen to get to Western Europe, recalling a 2016 agreement on migrants signed by Turkey’s then Prime Minister Ahmet Davoutglu in Brussels.
“What would happen if these 3 million migrants start marching through Bulgaria or Greece? What kind of border, fences, could stop this?”
On the sanctions against Russia, the Bulgarian leader said he was in favour of them, because “they keep us alert. they actually say that the line was crossed in the Crimea, that you cannot kill people in the 21st century”.
He implied that tightening sanctions further might be discussed, but may not necessarily be the right course.
“What i said about Turkey is also valid for Russia. It is better to be at peace with our neighbours. Dialogue, reason, everything needs to be prepared very well. We as the presiding country can only monitor if the agenda is followed, what is put on the agenda is decided together.”
‘We can discuss how healthy the sanctions are for both sides and whether we should increase sanctions, this is going to require a very serious debate,” he said.