Does Bulgaria have foreign policy?
Adelina Marini, August 19, 2009
One of the things that intrigued me very much around the parliamentary elections, as a journalist who writes about foreign policy for more than 10 years, was the question who would be the new foreign minister of Bulgaria? The reason for this excitement was that foreign policy is one of the foundations of the state because it clears the way towards many other fields, vital for the prosperity of the state - like trade, delivery of vital resources, tourism, ally activities that could bring another pile of benefits. Bulgaria, for the most part of its independent history, has always had weak foreign policy. The last 4 years were an attempt for making things right. Of course, I wouldn't want to underestimate the efforts of any previous foreign minister, but the facts are facts. I also wouldn't fall into defending my position because in Bulgaria quite often arguments are being perceived in various ways.
But in a moment when the world is desperately fighting couple of fundamental problems, it is in a way quite not right foreign policy to fall behind as, it seems, is happening at the moment. And those problems are as follows:
1. The consequences of the financial and economic crisis have caused serious global disruptions that led to serious geostrategic shifts. In other words, the world will no loner be quite the same after we all go out of the crisis. Most probably the US will not be the only super power and the world will be multipolar for some time, governed by organisations like the G8 or the G20, which might become more official as a status.
2. The going out of the crisis is also accompanied with a thorough analysis of the current way not only the financial system but the economy itself is functioning. And this is not about whether capitalism is dead but about the fact, that most probably, we are on the brink of a radical change of the technology used to move industry forward. This analysis also leads to the question: till when oil will be a structural raw material for the industry? The second question is: At what price oil should continue to be a factor?
3. Of course, the third question is related to the so called green economy - investments in new technologies that would gradually remove our dependence on fossil energy resources because now they are in the hands of a small circle of states with various geo- and internal political values.
Against this background each state, ruled by an intelligent elite, will invest all its resources so as to take the best possible place in global race for prosperity. It is clear from now that, given the current structure of the world, there won't be an expensive dinner for everyone, that is why the main consequence of the crisis would be the redistribution of wealth. Until recently this could be achieved by several methods that with the time proved to be very expensive and quite inefficient or non-durable, like colonization, for example.
Naturally, it would be too naive for us to think that Bulgaria can participate actively in this race for redistribution. But, being a member of one of the most influential factors on the global stage, Bulgaria could, at least, state its ambitions and needs and how it can help achieving them.
What is happening instead? After continuous speculations who would be the new foreign minister of Bulgaria, the new government, led by Boyko Borisov, has decided that the former MEP Rumyana Zheleva is a suitable candidate. I will keep my personal opinion about this decision, at least because I don't have sufficient information about it. The more unpleasant thing in this situation is that Ms. Zheleva is doing nothing to help me form an opinion.
Maybe I will not exaggerate if I say that she is the only minister in the new government so far, who has not yet gathered all field journalists, either on an official meeting, or unofficial, to share with them what she intends to focus on in her work, or at least to get acquainted with them. Otherwise, given the press releases of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, obviously there is some activity but it is always in the Past Simple: the foreign minister of the Republic of Bulgaria Ms. Rumyana Zheleva has met with X or Y, they discussed this or that etc.
The example of yesterday is even more frapant. This morning there was a meeting of former foreign ministers of Bulgaria with Ms. Zheleva. Why wasn't it public? Or, at least, all of the participants could have mentioned a few words to the audience? From the press release we get the following: "The invitation of Ms. Zheleva for such a meeting is an expression of her wish to secure continuity in the activities of the ministry in the realisation of successive and forecastable policy". So far it doesn't sound very seriously. Here's more: "During the conversation Ms. Rumyana Zheleva expressed conviction that wide social and interinstitutional consensus is needed for a foreign policy, based on the following three aspects:
- strengthening the role of Bulgaria as a member of the EU and NATO in the direction of a "positive example" for the countries of South East Europe and the Black Sea region;
- formulation of a field of Bulgaria's legitimate interests as a EU and NATO member and protection of those interests in the international institutions through well-grounded positions and statements;
- creation of conviction and new self-confidence of the Bulgarian citizens that their state can guarantee them all the necessary protection and legal security during their stay abroad, including through active cooperation and help for the Bulgarian Diaspora around the world".
The press release is 2 pages and is the first of three for the day from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The other press releases were information about all journalists that want to meet the Bulgarian Danka Panchova at the airport. She is returning from Paris after 9-month capture in Somalia. There was also a press release informing us that the Ministry has informed the prosecutor's office about some violations of the rules for the general elections abroad, but without specific countries to be named.
So far there's nothing wrong or illegal. The problem is that we are not given an opportunity to ask questions. There is also no idea since we will be looking for a "wide social and interinstitutional consensus" in foreign policy, who is going to look for it and how?
There are also no answers to the questions like the case with Spaska Mitrova in Macedonia - what is the ministry doing at the moment? have the documents about the trial been requested? has a Bulgarian representative been sent to the court, that jailed Spaska Mitrova with the killing argument that she did not allow her ex-husband to see their child?
Another issue for which is important Bulgaria to have a position, is the upcoming and very important conference in Copenhagen in the beginning of December at which it is expected a new climate change agreement to be signed. According to sources of euinside, Bulgaria will be represented by the minister of environment and waters but the topic will be discussed at a General Affairs and External Relations Council, attended by the EU foreign ministers. Bulgaria will sign the agreement separately and in the framework of the EU and that is why it is important for us to know what interests our country has.
Quite a lot of efforts are being put globally to organise the general elections in Afghanistan on the 20th of August where Bulgaria has a small, but globally, contingent. For us it is not that small and that is why we have to know what Bulgarian foreign policy thinks about Afghanistan.
We have serious delays regarding our membership to the Schengen area which are mainly related to the lack of activity in the recent leadership of the Ministry of the internal. Regarding the Foreign affairs ministry the ex deputy foreign minister, responsible for Schengen Milen Keremidchiev, did a lot of things but still we need to know what remains to be done, is there enough money, given the large spending cuts because of the expected large budget deficit in the end of the year?
Definitely not last, given the pragmatic relations so far, is the issue about Bulgarian-Russian relations. It is clear that the economic projects, started by the previous government, will be vital for our relations with Moscow and that is why, I'm convinced, that the Russians themselves also want to hear what Bulgaria thinks.
Bulgaria was one of the initiators of the Black Sea Synergy - one of the Eu policies, directed toward the region of the Black Sea as it is an external border of the EU and a very "close abroad" for Russia. This policy has been integrated in the initiative "Eastern Partnership". It would be quite curious what approach the new team on the Foreign Ministry would take.
The questions are too many and that is why, taking the risk to miss something important, I will stop here. Yesterday we also learned who the new spokesperson of the Ministry would be which for us, the journalists, wasn't the best news of the day. Leaving behind all arguments, I will only mention that the candidacy of Vladislav Prelezov (who was first a journalist in the Bulgarian National TV, responsible for defense, then he became a spokesman of the Ministry of Defense, then of the Ministry of extraordinary situations and at the moment is a the presenter of a analytical programme at the Bulgarian National Radio), has nothing to do with foreign policy.
It was a tradition, so far, with very small exceptions, the spokespersons to be diplomats and the reasons is more than obvious. The spokesperson is not the person that is playing the role of the Doberman whose only purpose is to protect the political figure of the minister from the inconvenient questions of the journalists. Just the opposite, he or she is the person that is supposed to provide media with all information they might need. And to be able to do that, he or she will have to have that information. If we are to wait for hours until the new spokesperson is trying to gather the information I request, this is unwise.
I wrote all this just to say that foreign policy is not an appointment on a nice place somewhere in the world with decent salary and which afterwords would look well in the CV. This is very serious work on which many things in a state depend, sometimes many personal fates. It is just not wise this fact to be ignored or passed by with silence, especially when our closest history remembers what happens when diplomacy is idle. Do we have to name all the blunders?
Besides, it is intensely speculated that Ms. Zheleva has accepted the post of the foreign minister while it is clear whether Bulgaria will have a commissioner in the next European Commission. It is expected this issue to be solved in the Autumn after the Irish decide on a second referendum whether to approve the Lisbon treaty which diminishes the current number of the commissioners from 27 to 2/3. Ms. Zheleva has also couple of times declared her readiness to accept the nomination of Bulgaria's second commissioner. If this is true, it does not speak well for her because, practically she is leaving Bulgarian foreign policy on auto pilot until a problem, which can be defined as her personal, is solved.