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Borissov Downplays Bulgaria’s Support For Hungary

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By Martin Dimitrov

The Bulgarian Prime Minister has dismissed the proposed declaration of his own cabinet to back Hungary in its quarrel with the EU – while also criticizing Viktor Orban’s policies.

Bulgaria is sending mixed messages about its position on the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban in the event of a future vote in the Council of the EU on Budapest losing its voting rights.

After members of the ruling coalition in Sofia on Wednesday said they were preparing a declaration of support for Hungary, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Thursday brushed the decision aside, saying it would have “no legal value”.

Speaking ahead of a congress in Salzburg of the centre-right European Popular Party, EPP, to which both his party and Orban’s party belong, he said the declaration merely represented moral support to Hungary in case “some time in the future … there is a risk [to Hungary] of losing its vote.”

“There is no drama, there is no decision”, the Bulgarian Prime Minister added.

His comments contrasted clearly with the position of his nationalist VMRO and NFSB coalition partners, who drafted the declaration in support of Orban in Sofia.

“What they are doing to Hungary and what they try to do to Poland is a repressive measure. The arguments are the same, like the ones the USSR used in 1956,” Krassimir Karakachanov, Defence Minister and leader of the VMRO fraction said, alluding to the Soviet invasion of Hungary that year.

He directly compared the European Parliament decision to push forward with the Article 7 process to identify “clear risk of serious breach” of the EU values by the Budapest government to the crushing of the Hungarian uprising.

Vessela Tcherneva, head of the European Council of Foreign Relations in Sofia, ECFR-Sofia, meanwhile said the government’s decision had no real value apart from showcasing the ambitions of two Bulgarian politicians to follow the model of Orban.

She confirmed also that it was highly unlikely any vote against Hungary or Poland would come any time soon.

“The Council itself abstains from putting such controversial topics forward because it does not to further deepen the lines of division in the Union. I am convinced there will be no vote either on Hungary or on Poland before the next European elections,” Tcherneva told BIRN.

She added that Europe still does not consider Bulgaria as part of those countries on the “illiberal” side of the fence.

“Borissov has persistently tried to maintain the image that Bulgaria is not on the path Hungary has taken, and is not backing Orban in his controversial decisions,” she added.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister told reporters in Salzburg that he had, in fact, advised Orban “to correct some of his policies”, including his pressure on the Central European University and the tough crackdown on migrants.

The actions of Borissov’s coalition partners come just a week after GERB and nationalist members of the European Parliament voted against the declaration that said Hungary was at “clear risk of serious breach” of EU core values, including judicial independence, academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The main ruling GERB party has refused to comment on the government’s decision to back Hungary, or on the vote of its MEPs.

Tcherneva said another aspect of Bulgaria’s confused position on Hungary was that it risked contravening Sofia’s goal of bringing Macedonia closer to EU and NATO membership.

“At a time when Orban is formally backing [opposition Macedonian party] VMRO-DPMNE’s position to boycott the Macedonian ‘name deal’ referendum, the Bulgarian nationalists, who are nominally backing the deal, give their support to Hungary. Isn’t that strange?” she asked.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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