I am delighted to meet with PM Borissov here in Sofia today in the first week of the New Year and most importantly the first week of Bulgarian EU Presidency. As a fellow small member state, Ireland understands the scale of the task that lies ahead of you over the next six months.
We also understand the unique opportunity of the Presidency to not only influence and advance the European agenda, but also to build stronger relationships at political and administrative levels across the union and to promote a positive view of your country to the rest of Europe.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate PM Borissov on his ambitious Presidency Programme, the preparations to date and to assure him of Ireland’s commitment to working with you and your team in making it a success. Your slogan ‘United We Stand Strong’ and the key themes of ‘Consensus, Competitiveness and Cohesion’ capture very well the essential needs of our Union at this time.
While the distance between our two countries may be far, there is much in common between Ireland and Bulgaria. Our countries are both enthusiastic EU members and we both believe that all policy areas and initiatives should be open to all Member States, even if all cannot engage from the outset.
Ireland believes very strongly that all countries which fulfil criteria for EU policies and programmes should be part of them. In this regard the “Consensus” pillar of your presidency is an approach that Ireland warmly welcomes.
As a member of the European Union since 1973, Ireland has seen the transformative and positive impact of membership on our economy, on trade and our society.
Ireland was well behind the average GDP of the EU when we joined in 1973 and didn’t converge on the EU average until the late 1990’s. Bulgaria correctly sees the EU as the route to development and prosperity and Ireland will continue to support you on this journey.
The debate on the Future of Europe, and the Leader’s agenda are very important in this regard.
Improving Europe’s economic competiveness and also ensuring that Europe is equipped with a budget to meet the challenges of the future are vital
I look forward to further discussions today and over the coming months with PM Borissov on these important issues.
We see the EU not just as an economic project but as the peace process for Europe and we share a common approach with you on the Western Balkans. Ireland has long supported EU accession by the Balkan countries, and we have our own positive experience of the EU helping to build and secure peace. The Summit to be chaired by President Tusk here in Sofia on 17 May will be an important milestone for the Bulgarian Presidency in taking this work forward.
I want, in particular, to express my appreciation for the support and understanding which PM Borissov and his government have demonstrated on the specific Irish concerns arising from Brexit - I know that they will continue to stand with us as negotiations proceed.
We will continue to work constructively to ensure that commitments entered into in December are delivered; that we move forward to deliver certainty to citizens and businesses on the period of transition after the UK leaves; and that we begin the work of shaping the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
These are of crucial importance to the EU, and particularly to Ireland. Much work will therefore continue during the critical phase II negotiations under Article 50, including in the distinct strand on the Irish issues.
Let me conclude by once again thanking PM Borissov for the invitation to Sofia and for the warm welcome I have received today.
There are many opportunities for building stronger relationships between our two counties and I hope that today’s meeting will serve as a catalyst for this. I wish you the very best of luck over the next six months for what I am sure will be a very successful and productive Presidency.