Bulgaria has done its homework on Schengen and there are no obstacles to its membership. This was stated by the Vice President of the European Parliament, Evelyn Regner, in a special interview for “Wake Up”.
Reger is an Austrian lawyer and politician. For the past 14 years, he has been a member of the European Parliament, and from 2022 – vice president. It is part of the Alliance of Progressive Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. A major focus of her work is tax justice, eliminating income inequality, and protecting women’s rights and gender equality. We meet her in Sofia, where she is on a special visit.
R: In the parliament, we have a woman who heads it. The head of the European Commission is also a woman, half of the vice-presidents of the parliament are also women. So I think we have already done something to change for the better. A woman’s place is at the top and it’s always about sharing responsibilities and duties – just sharing.
Q: Bulgaria is one step away from having the first female prime minister in a regular government – Maria Gabriel. Do you know her?
R: We know each other. We worked together as MEPs even before he became a Commissioner. This is a good step and I think it is always helpful when Europe comes to the people, closer to national politics. So I wish her strength and confidence to be able to take the right steps. And what is needed? There are many problems. Social issues, for example – for more than a year we have been fighting inflation, rising prices, women’s rights. Our problems are common, so it is always good when there is an exchange of roles and positions from the European institutions to the national ones. Then we understand each other better.
Q: Are you closely observing the processes in Bulgaria and how does everything look to you, viewed from 1,700 km in Strasbourg and Brussels?
R: Bulgaria is part of the European family. Of course, from all the problems, but also solutions that stand before us. What’s more – as the vice-president of the European Parliament and an Austrian, I emphasize, I dare to say that Bulgaria is also part of the Schengen family, after fulfilling all the criteria for membership. I am watching very closely when he will get on board for Schengen and I am very embarrassed by the official position of my country.
Q: Yes, you mentioned Schengen. The future government is making Schengen and the Eurozone a key priority. You also mentioned that you are Austrian, and Austria vetoed us.
R: Yes, and I do not support the actions of the Austrian government. In my opinion, this is a very bad move. This has nothing to do with Bulgaria, but rather with the internal problems in my country
Q: Let me be more precise – the Austrian government has said that the veto remains until it sees a permanent decline in people seeking asylum. What exactly does “permanent decline” mean? How can it be measured?
R: It is nothing but a transfer to internal political problems. You have done your homework on Schengen. You have met all the criteria and there is no objective reason to hinder your membership there. Bulgaria should be part of Schengen. It is!
Q: What can change the situation?
R: Yes, we currently need a common asylum and migrant protection policy that applies across Europe. We in the European Parliament have made such proposals, but, unfortunately, there are several member countries that say “no, we don’t want to!”. That is, we are in a stalemate. There are some countries that want to pick the fruit, but without doing their homework, which is not good. And this is detrimental to all countries, especially Bulgaria, which remains blocked.
Q: The Chancellor of Austria, Mr. Nehamer, was in Bulgaria. He met with our president, they visited the border. There was talk that the door to Schengen could be opened in October. Is this a realistic timeframe?
R: Of course it is possible. Everything depends on lifting the veto.
Q: And what about the position of the Netherlands?
R: To be honest, these are countries that have a case study in their internal politics, and it has nothing to do with what Bulgaria is doing. So it is better for them to solve their problems internally instead of blaming Bulgaria.
Q: What are our chances for the Eurozone then?
R: Here I want to say the following: Each party must fulfill its obligations under our general contract, and at the moment you do not meet all the criteria. The new deadline is 2025. The decision is up to Bulgaria and you have to balance and weigh your options. You must decide whether it is better for your population to join or not. The solution is as much economic as political. As a signal to Europe it will be good because it is our common currency.
Q: Inflation is currently the big problem not only for us, but for the entire European Union. What is your prediction?
R: We see that the situation is calming down, but there is more to be done both at the European and national level, and here the state must intervene. If we look at the countries that are doing well nationally – one of the solutions is to stop the rise in rents. States should intervene here, not the market looking for a solution. To reduce the VAT on the most necessary foods and to support vulnerable groups. At European level, it is high time to break the link between electricity and gas prices, which are linked. Thus, people will not feel the pressure of electricity prices as much. Another measure is the so-called excess profit tax.
Q: There are many discussions on this topic in our country. Should taxes be raised or not?
R: Taxes are a key tool. With them you can make society adaptable. A distinction must be made between those who make a profit and the population who pay the price. Because people are the ones who have to eat, pay their rent, electricity and gas bills. And it should be thought in the direction of reducing their taxes, at the expense of those who make big profits.
Q: Another hot topic in Bulgaria is relations with North Macedonia. You know – Bulgarians were blacklisted, MEPs were stopped at the border. What will be the response of the European institutions?
R: In this case, I want to say that such aggression does not benefit anyone. We want to raise the bar, not set new ones. Bulgaria is part of the European Union. As I told you, I am an advocate of entering Schengen. On the other side is North Macedonia. They did so much that we asked of them. They even changed their name. And they really did a lot to fulfill the conditions. I want to say to both parties – “Calm down! It is not good to provoke each other. It is not a good signal when North Macedonia provokes Bulgaria, but on the other hand you can be an example and say “Let’s work as neighbors”.
Q: A few days ago, the European Union approved the Istanbul Convention. You know that Bulgaria refuses to ratify it. Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia – also.
R: Actually, the Istanbul Convention is a very simple document. She said “You have no right over violence against women”. From my point of view, this is the most normal thing in the world. It says that it is the duty of states to protect their citizens from violence – if a man beats his wife, if a brother assaults his sister. It is a bridge to criminal law. I know that there are several countries, including Bulgaria, who read the Istanbul Convention in a different way, but there is no reason for this.
Q: But are we obliged to accept it if we do not agree with it?
R: Yes! Bulgaria must implement the Istanbul Convention in its legislation. The decision was taken democratically within the Union. The majority decided it and it is binding on everyone. As well as for the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the other countries that are against,
Q: Will there be penalties if we refuse?
R: Of course. There will be sanctions, but I don’t want it to come to that.
Q: At the end of our conversation – tell me how stable the Union is? We faced many crises – the war in Ukraine, inflation, COVID-19.
R: That’s right, that’s absolutely true. And we continue to fight them. But the European Union is the best place to live. I can’t imagine better. If we look back, we had the great financial crisis of 2008, the horrific war in Ukraine, the energy crisis. But from every crisis we went through, at the end of the day we were stronger. Could you imagine? This unity of countries to help Ukraine, we allocated 750 billion euros to rebuild economies after COVID-19. If Bulgaria had to face all these crises alone – financial crisis, war, coronavirus, you can imagine what would have happened. Now we have the climate crisis and something that is very important to me – to unite together against the social crisis, because people cannot cope with exploding prices if there is no unified response to them. So if I can summarize – sometimes the European Union gets on everyone’s nerves because specific decisions are made that are not liked by everyone, but it makes us stronger together.
Watch the entire interview in the video.
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