Bulgarian and Czech PMs discuss Romani minority and Schengen
Bulgarian Prime Minister Bojko Borissov and other members of his government visited their Czech counterparts in Prague on Tuesday. The central topic of their negotiations was an evaluation of bilateral relations to date with a view to strengthening them in the future.
Borissov's visit was meant to contribute to strengthening Bulgarian-Czech relations, to provide the opportunity for an exchange of opinions regarding EU and international affairs, and to expand opportunities for the further development of cooperation between the two countries in the areas of culture, economics, and politics. At the start of Tuesday's press conference, the Ministers of Culture of both countries signed an agreement on cultural cooperation.
Czech PM Petr Nečas said the various countries that are imposing extra conditions on Bulgaria's access to the Schengen area are, in his view, not behaving either correctly or fairly in accordance with European principles. Neither Bulgaria nor Romania succeeded in joining Europe's free movement zone at the end of September. While these most recent EU Member States did meet the technical conditions necessary for entry into Schengen (such as border security), some other EU Member States have criticized them for their deficient approach to the fight against corruption and organized crime. Unanimous agreement by all of the members of Schengen is required for its expansion. Finland and the Netherlands, for example, opposed the addition of Bulgaria and Romania.
Speaking on Tuesday, Nečas emphasized the opinion of the Czech Government as a whole (as well as his personal opinion) that the accession of Bulgaria into Schengen should be supported. "We consider it incorrect and unfair for more requirements to be made of Bulgaria that go above and beyond the usual conditions for accession," Nečas said.
Bulgarian PM Borissov told the press that his country has met the Schengen criteria. "I believe the other EU Member States will not allow such behavior. It reduces the prestige of the EU and poses an enormous danger and threat to EU integrity," he said, adding that the precedent of rejecting the acceptance of Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen will affect all other EU accession countries. Borissov also said nothing would change Bulgaria's efforts to fully integrate the country into all European structures. "We will protect the EU as it wishes," he said.
"The Bulgarian Government and the Czech Government both refuse to establish a deadline for joining the euro - no one knows how that project is going to develop," Nečas said after the meeting. Borissov confirmed that his country is in no hurry to join the eurozone. "We don't want to enter directly into debt," he said. "We both belong to a coalition of countries whose governments are fiscally responsible," the Czech PM emphasized.
The topic of the Romani minority in both countries was also discussed. Like the towns in the Šluknov foothills, some Bulgarian cities have been shaken by large displays of anti-Roma unrest. Several thousand people have been demonstrating in the capital, Sofia, and the State Security Council has convened to discuss the issue. Borissov stressed on Tuesday that almost all Eastern European states have similar problems and said Bulgaria is doing his best to motivate school attendance by children living in socially excluded localities. Unlike the Czech Republic, Bulgaria has historically had many such ghettos on its territory for decades. "In our country we too are doing our best to get children living in these socially excluded localities into the schools. That is our primary task. We even subsidize snacks for them and do our best to motivate their school attendance so Romani children can become educated," Borissov said.
Nečas said the Czech Republic intends to address Romani community affairs through integration and reducing social exclusion. He reminded the press that the Government has recently adopted a "Strategy for the Fight against Social Exclusion", saying the Czech Government perceives the problem as a social one and wants to promote the same "rights and responsibilities" for all citizens.
After meeting with PM Nečas, PM Borissov was welcomed to Prague Castle by Czech President Václav Klaus just after noon. After meeting with the Czech head of state, he then met with the head of the Czech Senate, Senator Milan Štěch (Czech Social Democrats - ČSSD). On Tuesday evening Borissov and Klaus opened an exhibition entitled "Jewels of Bulgarian Icons from the 15th-19th Centuries" in the Rožmberk Palace at Prague Castle. Borissov returned home on Wednesday.
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