Koenders offers Bulgaria organisational training ahead of its EU Presidency

Today, at a meeting with the Bulgarian deputy prime minister for European policies, Meglena Kuneva, and the Bulgarian justice minister, Hristo Ivanov, foreign minister Bert Koenders offered Bulgarian civil servants Dutch training in preparation for Bulgaria’s Presidency of the EU in 2018. ‘I appreciate Bulgaria’s willingness to ask for support.

By providing advice and sharing our experiences in the run-up to our own EU Presidency in 2016, the Netherlands can help our Bulgarian partners prepare to take over the Presidency themselves. There’s no need for them to reinvent the wheel,’ said Mr Koenders.

At the meeting Mr Koenders also spoke to Ms Kuneva and Mr Ivanov about Bulgaria’s efforts to enact rule-of-law reforms and fight corruption and organised crime. According to the latest report on this subject by the European Commission the country is making progress, but there is still work to be done. ‘It is good to see that the Bulgarian government is taking visible steps to combat corruption, tackle organised crime and enhance the rule of law. I have called on the country to continue down this path,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘An effective legal order in every member state is essential for the proper functioning of the European Union.’

The issue of European migration was another item on the agenda. ‘Like the Netherlands, Bulgaria is facing increasing numbers of migrants,’ remarked Mr Koenders. The minister believes that EU member states should act in concert in taking in refugees, and in combating human smuggling so as to prevent future humanitarian disasters. ‘The seriousness of the situation demands that all member states shoulder their responsibility in this area,’ Mr Koenders stressed. ‘We sorely need European solidarity.’

Mr Koenders thanked Bulgaria for its active contribution to counterterrorism efforts. According to the minister, Bulgaria is increasingly being used as a transit country by radicalised Islamists seeking to join ISIS in countries like Syria and Iraq. ‘This makes the country a key player in the fight against extremism and terrorism,’ said Mr Koenders, who believes that Bulgaria therefore should join the Netherlands in taking action. Both countries are in the working group on foreign terrorist fighters of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the counter-finance working group of the anti-ISIS coalition.

Mr Koenders had good things to say about Dutch-Bulgarian relations. ‘Many Bulgarian students are enrolled at Dutch universities. Dutch tourists are increasingly discovering Bulgaria as a destination,’ said the minister. ‘In addition the Netherlands is the largest investor in Bulgarian and its 10th-largest trading partner.’