by Krassen Nikolov
Bulgaria’s president and caretaker ministers snapped back at Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for his comments about crossing the Bulgarian border with a €50 bribe as part of his reasons to block Bulgaria’s bid to join the EU’s visa-free Schengen Area.
Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are all ready to join the Schengen Area, according to the European Commission’s latest expert missions, though the Netherlands and Austria have expressed opposition. While the Dutch strongly oppose Bulgaria’s accession, Austria is against Bulgaria and Romania joining.
However, relations between the Netherlands and Bulgaria took a further hit following Rutte’s claims that Bulgaria allows corruption at its borders.
“Recently three Bulgarian policemen were killed, protecting the external EU border. Today, Dutch PM Mark Rutte unacceptably suggested that one could cross this border for €50. Instead of receiving European solidarity, Bulgaria receives cynicism!” said Bulgaria’s current leader, President Rumen Radev, on Friday evening.
Bulgarian Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev also joined in slamming the Dutch leader.
“In connection with the statement of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, to the public media NOS, that he ‘wants to rule out the possibility of illegally crossing the border between Turkey and the Schengen area in Bulgaria with a €50 banknote’, as the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Bulgaria I state that the prosecutor’s office has no data or evidence for this,” his office said in a statement, noting that the Dutch should provide data on bribe cases so these can be investigated and brought before the Bulgarian court.
“Bulgaria is a country that is part of the European Union and, as such, respects and protects European values,” the statement added.
The sharpest reaction came from Stefan Yanev, the former acting prime minister and current leader of Bulgarian Rise. He went as far as to submit a draft decision to parliament that would force the prime minister to oppose all Dutch initiatives at the EU level.
Acting Justice and Interior Ministers Krum Zarkov and Ivan Demerdzhiev also hit back against Rutte with very strong comments.
“Every day, the Bulgarian security forces protect the peace of all European citizens, including the Dutch, at the heaviest land external border of the European Union with their bodies, despite the increased migration pressure – four times higher than last year. The suggestions that you can cross the border for €50 are extremely offensive. Our efforts do not deserve insults!” commented Bulgarian Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev, who visited the Netherlands with Foreign Minister Nikolay Milkov this week to try to overturn The Hague’s position.
“Mark Rutte suggested that for €50, you can cross the border. Bulgarians died to protect not only us but also them. Rutte must be careful,” said Justice Minister Krum Zarkov.
The comments come after a report found that much of the Dutch public remain unconvinced about the prospect of EU enlargement. As well as historically placing obstacles in the way of various hopefuls, the Dutch people have a general lack of positivity regarding expansion.
A survey by Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), European Fund for the Balkans (EFB) and d|part notes a slight improvement in perceptions, although the figures are still not reassuring for those in the EU’s waiting room.
It found that less than half were positive about enlargement, with the remainder either with no opinion or negative.
Some 45% thought that enlargement into the region would be good or very good, while 55% think it is negative, very negative, or are unsure.
A further 49% think that enlargement with the Western Balkans could have a negative or neutral impact on their lives. Fears and concerns include the rule of law, civil rights, and the use of Dutch taxpayers’ money.
But this could be improved further by engaging with citizens more on the functioning of the EU, said Dr Jan Eichorn, research director at d|part and co-author of the study.
“Instead, worries about enlargement are often reflections of concerns about how the EU functions generally. So starting by engaging citizens with existing EU institutions and processes is the best way to build support for expansion.”
*frist published in: Euractiv.com