President Milanović in Sofia: Full support to Bulgaria’s Schengen accession  

25. May 2023.

The President of the Republic of Croatia Zoran Milanović is on an official visit to the Republic of Bulgaria at the invitation of his Bulgarian counterpart President Rumen Radev. After a welcoming ceremony held in front of the presidential palace in Sofia, the two Presidents held a tête-à-tête and a bilateral meeting of the delegations of the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Bulgaria.

In a statement to the representatives of the media after the meeting, President Milanović emphasized that there are no outstanding issues between the two countries and that the expansion of the Schengen Area is an important topic, which the leaders discussed. Since Croatia had fulfilled the goal of joining the Schengen Area, President Milanović endorsed Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen, adding that Croatia can provide support based on its own experience.

Speaking of the reasons why Bulgaria is in the Schengen waiting room, which are unclear, the President said: “These things should be discussed openly, just as a number of other things that are discussed in Brussels covertly, sometimes cynically, should be discussed. Specific interests are hidden behind values and principles and deep philosophies, which are actually nothing more than bartering. Bulgaria has been waiting for entry into Schengen for more than 10 years and it is still not known how much longer it will wait. There is no transparency and the criteria are purely political, as they were for Croatia. We had to wait for 7 years even though we fulfilled all the requirements,” President Milanović underscored.

President Milanović extended his full support to Bulgaria, considering how long it has been waiting to enter the Schengen Area. “Full support to Bulgaria. Such things bother me because I think they are unfair. I wish Bulgaria a lot of success,” said the Croatian President, adding that Croatia is ready to help through discussions with some Member States that have reservations about Bulgaria’s Schengen membership.

“Here we can also help the Bulgarian side, in good faith, because we are already a relatively mature member. The moment Bulgaria and Romania join Schengen, the maritime connection to Central Europe via Thessaloniki will be much shorter, compared to the current link across the northern part of the continent. Quite frankly, this is about financial interests of the northern members and the rule of law narrative is all but nice words that we in Croatia have been listening to for years,” said President Milanović.

Responding to a reporter’s question on the EU’s stance towards the war in Ukraine, President Milanović emphasized that out of a fundamental sense of loyalty, he would never work against the unity of the European Union. But he warned that not all opinions in the EU can be the same.

“Our position on the matter is very similar to Bulgaria’s. The unity of the European Union is not a dogma and is not something that, especially in matters of foreign and security policy, is taken for granted. Also, there are no people with a clear democratic mandate who have the right to speak for everyone. We are nation states and we are different,” the President explained.

Asked whether he supports separating Albania’s and North Macedonia’s accession negotiations, President Milanović replied: “Unfortunately, there is the threat of the negotiations being separated because the Republic of North Macedonia has certain conditions in the negotiating framework due to which, if it does not fulfil them, it will not be able to continue the negotiations at the same pace as Albania.” Speaking in this context about Bulgaria’s request to include Bulgarians in Macedonia’s constitution, he said that it seems justified, while drawing a parallel with the Croatian constitution as an example of one of the most liberal in terms of minorities. “Both countries should have been part of the European Union long ago,” President Milanović concluded.

After meeting with the President of Bulgaria, President Milanović attended a working lunch with Bulgarian Prime Minister Galab Donev and in the afternoon he gave a lecture at St. Kliment Ohridski University entitled “Geopolitics and Economics.” While on his day-long official visit to Bulgaria, President Milanović will also meet with the Speaker of the National Assembly Rosen Zhelyazkov.

PHOTO: Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia / Dario Andrišek