Macron provokes diplomatic incident with Bulgaria, Ukraine

Macron: “I prefer people who came from Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire who are here and do the job (legally), rather than Bulgarian or Ukrainian trafficking networks.” [Photo by Sarantis Michalopoulos]

The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe, through on-the-ground reporting by EURACTIV’s media network. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at Albania’s first comments on Macron’s enlargement damper as well as why the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland likely broke EU law by refusing to take in asylum-seekers at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015.


French President Emmanuel Macron provoked a diplomatic scandal following a 12-page long interview with the far-right media “Valeurs actuelles”.

The Elysée has been in a damage-control mode since then, answering to criticism both internally and externally. Many blasted his choice to give an interview to a far-right outlet, and some commented that right-wing ideas now take the lead in France.

“We need to speak to everyone”, the Elysée said.

“I prefer people who came from Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire who are here and do the job (legally), rather than Bulgarian or Ukrainian trafficking networks,” Macron said, triggering harsh reactions in Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Macron was referring to the fact that in France, it is difficult to find French people willing to wash dishes in restaurants. Many interpreted that France preferred immigrants from its former colonies, rather than from Europe.

After the country’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva said the statement was “offensive”, Bulgaria summoned the French ambassador to Sofia to provide an explanation. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said Macron “will find it hard to achieve EU leadership with such unmeasured comments”. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov spoke with Macron over the phone and said he hoped the French president would make it up by supporting Bulgaria for joining ERM II, the waiting room for the eurozone.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also summoned the French Ambassador in Kyiv. He reportedly explained that there were “no claims against citizens of Ukraine who travel to France” and that the President’s words were taken out of context.

Macron obviously wanted to say that legal migration was better than illegal migration. However, Bulgaria is a member state of the EU, and its nationals fully enjoy the “four freedoms”, including the free movement of labour.

Ukraine is not an EU member, but its nationals no longer need visas to go to France. Ukrainian citizens have the right to visit the Schengen countries without a visa for up to three months, which, however, does not entitle them to work.

It would have been a different issue if Macron had intended to say that Bulgarian or Ukrainian trafficking networks bring in third-country nationals to France, but in that case, he should have made it clearer. It is known that for years now the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad has been involved in selling Bulgarian passports against bribes of the order of €5,000. Reportedly, such citizens have been detained in other EU countries, and their authorities have realised that these individuals do not even speak Bulgarian.

Perhaps that’s why the sharpest reaction in Bulgaria came from VMRO leader Krassimir Karakachanov, Deputy Prime Minister. Many suspect Karakachanov to have provided a political umbrella to the trafficking networks, if not more, for the passport trade.

EURACTIV France commented that Macron did not expect the magazine to publish a 12-pages long article with many comments and pictures of Marine Le Pen in the interview.

But as the right-wing journalists underlined in the article, Macron tried to convince them so hard that he was fighting against illegal immigration that he “overtook them on the right side”, by showing them that he was trying to send back home more illegal migrants than France used to.

According to the last poll published last week, both Macron and Le Pen have gained popularity since the presidential election in 2017, and both have support from around 28% of voters. However, both Macron’s and Le Pen’s parties attract a lot of hate from either side. Although no elections are planned before 2022, the government is obviously under pressure.


Meanwhile, Boyko Borissov’s GERB won Sofia’s mayorship. In the local elections run-off on Sunday, the current mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova, from PM Boyko Borissov ‘s GERB party, was re-elected by 50% of the votes to 45% for Maya Manolova, supported by opposition forces. Overall, GERB won 16 out of the country’s 28 regions, while the main opposition force, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) won four. DPS, the mainly ethnic Turkish party, won the region of Kardzhali, and different coalitions won seven regions. [More on the story: EURACTIV’s partner Dnevnik]



The Greens are CDU/CSU’s main competitor. Markus Söder, leader of the CDU Bavarian sister party CSU, warned the CDU/CSU against solely concentrating on the far-right AfD as their most important political opponent.

In an interview with Germany newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, he said that the main competitors are now the Greens. “We need to focus more on them. The Greens are about to replace the SPD as the leading party in the left spectrum,” he said, adding that they will be the main competitor in the race to the chancellorship. “That is why we have to deal with them in a more targeted way,” he added. (Claire Stam |



A new political deadlock in Spain? Next Sunday’s Election in Spain won’t likely solve the current political stalemate as results could be quite similar compared to the 28 April elections, according to a poll published on Sunday by El País, EFE reported.

The socialists (PSOE) of caretaker PM Pedro Sánchez would win the election with 121 seats,  which is two less than in the April elections. Leftist “Unidas Podemos” would suffer a severe blow getting 31 seats from 42 and the five seats of the newly founded leftist formation “Más País” (More Country), would not be sufficient to forge a majority for Sánchez to govern. Ciudadanos will sink from 57 to 14 seats, the conservative PP (EPP) would likely increase its seats (from 66 to 91), while far-right party Vox could obtain 46 seats and become the third most influential political group in the parliament.

The 40dB poll indicates that the conservative/far-right block, formed by Partido Popular (Popular Party), centrist-liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens) and far-right VOX will fall short of four seats compared to the leftist block (PSOE/Unidas Podemos/Más País).

In the past, PSOE rejected to form a “grand coalition” with the PP, but it would be probably open to reach a pact with Ciudadanos, in case a “leftist coalition” is finally off the table. (Fernando Heller /



Italy-style technocrat government? “It has been almost 11 months since the Michel government fell and nobody, not even the King, probably knows how to continue,” Christian Democrat (CD&V) leadership candidate, Joachim Coens has said. If political parties are unable to form a government by 1 January 2020, this task should be left to a technical government of academics, administration and business experts, he suggested.

“Similar to Italy amid the 2011 financial crisis, when Mario Monti, who had been twice European Commissioner, set up a government of specialists, technocrats, which then brought stability. Belgium is at such a point. It’s either that or new elections, but these would solve nothing,” Coens added. Meanwhile, soon-to-be European Council President Charles Michel called on PS (Socialists) and N-VA (Flemish nationalists) to show courage and form a government. (Alexandra Brzozowski |



Lib Dem Women Unite. A group of women from the Liberal Democrat party have written to broadcasters demanding their leader Jo Swinson be included in televised debates after ITV announced its first broadcast debate will feature only the Conservative leader Boris Johnson up against the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“We believe it is important, in terms of inspiring girls and women into leadership roles in future, that the only woman to lead a major UK party is not locked out of the leadership debates,” the letter read.

“If Jo were not to be included in the leadership debates that are proposed, it would deny these people a voice. Her exclusion would fail to represent any balance or provide a platform for a unique position that has undeniably garnered significant public support,” they added. (Samuel Stolton,

Read also: Trump says UK Labour leader Corbyn would be ‘so bad’ for Britain



Plastic and politics. The Italian government is open to rediscuss a proposed tax on single-use plastics, out of concern for the country’s world-leading packaging sector based in Emilia-Romagna, where regional elections are scheduled in January.

EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna has the story: Italy’s plastic tax proposal angers ‘packaging valley’ before crucial regional vote



Who wants to be a president? The debate over the presidential elections due in May 2020 has heated up in Poland. It is clear that incumbent Andrzej Duda, supported by PiS, will run for another 5-year term. But the situation is less clear when it comes to the opposition camp.

It remains to be seen whether Donald Tusk will come back to Polish politics. He’s said to be still hesitating and is supposed to announce his decision on 2 December. However, not everyone in his old party would be happy to see him back. Grzegorz Schetyna, the current chief of PO (EPP) says he prefers to have primaries in the party, but during a board meeting last week, the decision was postponed until 8 November.

His favourite remains Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, who voiced interest in running and is doing quite well in the polls against Duda. According to PO politicians, the possible primaries in the party should end by Christmas.

There are other opposition parties with presidential ambitions, but according to the poll by Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, 49% of voters would like to see only one opposition candidate standing against Duda. (Łukasz Gadzała |



Slovakia bans animals in circuses. As of November, public shows and performances involving animals such as tigers, lions, bears, primates, elephants, hippos, rhinos, dolphins and giraffes will be banned in Slovakia. In addition, training conditions of other animals, like dogs and cats, will have to abide by stricter regulation. (Zuzana Gabrižová |



Friends of Cohesion in Prague. A group of 17 EU countries, the so-called “Friends of Cohesion”, will gather in Prague on Tuesday (5 November) to discuss a common approach in negotiating the next EU Multiannual financial framework 2021-2027. They want to make sure that it will contain enough money for cohesion policy. The current proposal presented by the European Commission envisages cuts, due to Brexit and the focus on new priorities. (Ondřej Plevák |

Read also: EU official: Interreg is an ‘engine’ of regional cooperation but needs simplification



Shocking statements by bank governor. In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times, Hungarian central bank governor György Matolcsy called for “a way out of the euro trap.” He identified François Mitterrand as the creator of the “French snare”, which created “few winners and many losers” in the last two decades.

Matolcsy said it was time “to wake up from this harmful and fruitless dream,” and suggested, “members of the eurozone should be allowed to leave the currency zone in the coming decades.”

The opinion comes after Matolcsy forecasted a future common digital Eurasian currency at the Budapest Eurasia Forum last Wednesday (30 October), where he shared a stage with Russian Minister of Health, Veronika Skvortsova and Péter Szijjártó, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Szijjártó used the occasion to announce that Hungary vetoed a joint NATO statement about Ukraine and will “block all measures to harmonise taxes” in the EU. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov |



D-Day for the new government. The centre-right government of Ludovic Orban could start working on Monday if it gets the OK from the parliament. However, it is not certain that the government will obtain parliament’s backing as the socialists from PSD are trying to block the investiture by abstaining. Ludovic Orban, head of the PNL party, who is trying to form the minority quorum, said, however, that he counts on 237 to 243 votes, while he needs at least 233 votes to get his government in place. (



No ban on glyphosate. Agriculture Minister Marija Vučković has said that Croatia will not ban the use of glyphosate-based herbicides yet. The minister explained that the controversial ingredient contained in weed killers has proved to be the most effective herbicide and suspicions about its potential carcinogenic risk had not yet been proved. A high-ranking Bayer official recently told EURACTIV that no ‘magical’ alternative to glyphosate is expected in the next 5 years.

Huawei is happy with Croatia. Croatian Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković, who is on an official visit to China, visited Huawei. Huawei senior officials expressed their satisfaction with the company’s business in Croatia and recalled two memoranda signed by Zagreb and Huawei Technologies Croatia last April at the China+17 Summit in Dubrovnik. Based on those signed documents, the first group of ten Croatian students went to China to pursue education.

“Huawei has announced new business projects in Croatia, cooperation with local communities and our private sector, so we can be very pleased,” said Jandroković. (Željko Trkanjec |

Read also: French leader to raise ‘taboo’ topics in China



Serbia approves growth budget. The Serbian government has approved a bill on the country’s budget for 2020, which provides for a deficit of RSD 20.2 billion, or 0.3% of GDP, the Ministry of Finance announced. According to Finance Minister Siniša Mali, this budget ends the period of consolidation of public finances and enters the growth period. (



Fight against terrorism. “Slow government formation after the October 2018 elections continues to delay the adoption of new, stronger measures in the fight against terrorism in BiH”, the US Department of State has said. Valentin Inzko, the international community’s High Representative for BiH, said the US interest in Southeast Europe is growing, something that will have a positive impact in the broader region. (Željko Trkanjec |



First minister’s resignation over bribery. Montenegrin Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulović resigned after a TV network released a recording of two building inspectors from his ministry taking a bribe. This is the first time a minister resigns over corruption. (Željko Trkanjec |


[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck]

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