Growing discontent is closing the window of opportunity for concessions on refugees.
In the first working day of the National Assembly and as an answer to the Cologne events Prime Minister Borissov willingly or not summarised in only two minutes the simmering threat of disintegration in the EU and Merkel’s decline as Europe’s lighthouse against the background of the refugee crisis.
“There is no force in Europe, there is no person in Europe to tell you what will happen and what has to be done. This is why every country has to look at its national interests”, he said. And even if two weeks earlier he had proudly spoken of his great working relationship with Chancellor Merkel, it was not her policies but Seehofer’s ideas of closing the borders that Borissov praised as the only working mechanism. “One nation invited them, the others have to pay” continued the PM, implying the Central and Eastern European discontent with reallocation of resources from budgeted EU funds to the refugee crisis package.
Bulgaria is no longer on the main route of the asylum seekers as it was in 2013. This is why the sudden, though subtle criticism of Merkel’s policy points to a potential dangerous shift towards the growing central European camp of countries, highly critical of any burden sharing effort in Europe, along with the other troubling tendencies.
As with the rest of the EU, Bulgaria relies on Turkey to keep asylum seekers far from Europe. If for any reason the thin agreement between Turkey and the EU does not deliver and the pressure on Bulgaria grows, the government might move closer still to the Central European club.
There are enough voices in Bulgarian society who seize every opportunity to shout “We told you so” when it comes to an alleged incompatibility between the Islamic values and the Western lifestyle, and this is the case after the series of sexual harassments in Cologne. Being traditionally Germanophile and comprising the second largest group of foreign students in Germany, Bulgarians are very divided in their reaction. On the one hand there are the more conservative ones in favour of closing borders and, on the other hand, the more liberal ones favouring an open-border approach.
In his intervention the Bulgarian PM outlined what has become evident throughout the last months: the quota principle and reallocation of refugees are difficult to implement, the border controls are non-functional, Schengen has been suspended, and the integrational efforts in receiving countries are inadequate.
Despite the public rhetoric both the Bulgarian government and institutions do their best to stick to the rules and fulfil any agreements made at EU level to manage the crisis, be it redistribution of burden or assistance for transit countries. But with growing discontent the window of opportunity for concessions among the member states will be getting smaller.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.