President of the Republic of Bulgaria

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Mr President, Secretary General, honourable members of the Parliamentary Assembly, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank all of you for the opportunity to address this distinguished audience. Since 1949, this Assembly has become a generator of ideas, a platform for meaningful debate, and a guardian of human rights, democratic values and the rule of law. For more than 65 years, you have been a driving force for positive change, guiding Europe and 800 million Europeans on their path to peace, unity and co-operation.

Bulgaria joined the Council of Europe in 1992. Membership opened new horizons for my country and facilitated the transition from totalitarian communist regime to vibrant democracy. This is a historic achievement for the Bulgarian nation; it is also a historic commitment to European values, on which Bulgarian foreign and domestic policy has been based since then. We are determined to continue to honour and implement our commitment to respecting the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which is at the heart of this great Organisation.

Today, Bulgaria is the proud chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This is a very demanding responsibility, given the seriousness of the challenges we all face today. Joint and co-ordinated efforts are needed to preserve and promote our common European values. The 126th session of the Committee of Ministers will be held in Sofia on 18 May 2016. Bulgaria will spare no effort to achieve the results it has set out to accomplish as chair of the Committee of Ministers. We count on the valuable support and co-operation of your respective parliamentarians, from parliaments and governments all over Europe, in achieving those goals.

“Since it joined the Council of Europe in 1992, Bulgaria has come a long way; thanks to the Council of Europe’s guidance in the years of transition, we managed to establish a modern democratic state"

We welcome the adoption of the Declaration on the Principles of European Unity and Co-operation by the Standing Committee in October 2015, and support the convening of a summit of Heads of State and Government at the highest possible level to reaffirm member States’ commitment to the common values and principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We commend the efforts of the chair of the Bulgarian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, Madame Dzhema Grozdanova, in making this declaration a reality.

Dear friends, the number of crises around the world, including in Europe, is at a record high. The challenges ahead of us are very serious, and we cannot afford to wait, or to shift them to the next generation. We need to act; we need to take important decisions. A decision can be right or wrong, but sometimes even a wrong decision is better than no decision at all. Mistakes can be fixed, but taking no decision creates a dangerous grey zone of illegitimacy, instability and indifference. Being indifferent today, dear friends, is not an option for any of us.

Let me point out some of the challenges that we need to address. The first challenge relates to the rule of law. Every crisis can be traced back to an initial phase when someone violated the rule of law, but peace can be achieved only when the rules apply to everyone. Without rules, there is no peace. The use of weapons and violation of the rule of law is not an argument; it is clear proof of the absence of arguments. We need to establish and safeguard efficient mechanisms to guarantee the rule of law. Unfortunately, today it is even possible for a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council not to follow the rules and principles of the international order.

The second challenge is the early detection of crises and taking a proactive approach. We see weapons and the use of force in so many places around the world, but use of weapons and violation of the rule of law is clear proof of having no other reasons or arguments. For that reason, we should not wait for weapons and crises to appear on our TV screens before acting. Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is human rights. Peace is rule of law. We need an early detection system at a European or even global level to warn us, and help us understand, when those universal values are endangered and violated. We need not just to be concerned, and not just to register crises, but to be proactive and solve them.

The third challenge is migration. The ongoing hostilities in several conflict zones have forced millions to leave their homes. Millions are on Europe’s doorstep. Many of them are running away from the devastation of war, asking for nothing but the right to live. Others are simply looking for better economic possibilities. Closing our doors to those fleeing for their lives, denouncing international human rights protections and forgetting Europe’s core values is not an option. Bulgaria follows the rules of the Dublin Regulation and the Schengen agreement. We show solidarity with all refugees and give humanitarian status to those who meet the criteria. Bulgaria supports the establishment of a solidarity scheme that will allow for the fair relocation and resettlement of refugees among all member States. We need to establish a relevant mechanism to distinguish those in need from those just looking for a better life. That does not go against having stricter border controls and security checks.

I reaffirm Bulgaria’s irrevocable position of respecting all the standards of international humanitarian and human rights law for asylum seekers. My country is a responsible member of the international community, a member of the European Union, and a State party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 protocol. As chairman-in-office of the South-East European Cooperation Process, Bulgaria will initiate a joint statement on all the migration challenges that we face, which will be adopted at the second informal meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs, to be held on 2 February 2016 in Sofia.

The fourth challenge is that terrorism and violent extremism transcend national borders. They strike unexpectedly where it hurts most – our values, our way of life. No country can manage on its own. Terrorism is a global threat, so the solution must be global too. United we can win the fight against hate, extremism and destruction. We have to address the causes of that global menace, not just the consequences. It is only a matter of time before the international anti-terrorist coalition, of which Bulgaria is a proud member, wins the fight against Daesh. But the ideology of terrorism cannot be defeated with weapons. We need better ideas, education and tolerant societies.

No one is born a terrorist. Terrorists are created. Social exclusion, inequality and lack of access to basic human rights fuel hatred and division. Many young people have no jobs, no prospects and no goals in life. Radicalisation is just a step away. Marginalisation has no nationality, ethnicity, religion or skin colour. We can prevent the radicalisation of marginalised groups within our own societies only through education and integration.

The role of the Council of Europe as a guardian and promoter of the values of democracy and freedom is essential in shaping a comprehensive democratic response to the terrorism threat. Bulgaria welcomes the Council of Europe’s timely action in response to the increasing manifestations of violent extremism and radicalisation, and commends the adoption by the Council of Europe’s ministerial session in May 2015 of the comprehensive action plan on the fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism.

We welcome the adoption and the opening for signature of the additional protocol to the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism concerning “foreign terrorist fighters”. Bulgaria signed the protocol the very day it took the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. The Bulgarian chairmanship will spare no effort to ensure its full and rapid implementation.

Our fifth challenge is that of global interests versus global principles. Today’s Russia acts based on the ideology of great powers, with their spheres of interest. On the other hand we have the European Union, a unique project for peace where big Germany with 80 million citizens and small Estonia with 1.3 million have the same rights, and where consensus-driven policies make every State important. No State is peripheral or subordinate. Everyone is a partner and everyone matters – big or small, rich or poor. On the world stage, we hope to see global interests that do not oppose but reflect the guiding principles and values of international order.

The sixth challenge is that the West and Russia are opponents once again. Unfortunately, the game in Europe has changed; the Ukrainian crisis is the game changer. We have entered a new phase, which I call cold peace. It is peace, because nobody wants a war or to go back to the Cold War, but it is a cold peace because we are seeing elements of rhetoric and propaganda from Cold War times, unfortunately. Some countries become destabilised through frozen conflicts. The annexation of Crimea was a blatant violation of international law and its principles. Bulgaria stands firmly behind Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. For us, Crimea is Ukraine and Ukraine is Europe.

That brings me to the seventh challenge: frozen conflicts. Their number is rising. Eastern Ukraine could be the next one. Is that what we offer to its people? Will they live better in a frozen conflict area, run by illegitimate groups and their guns? Are people in such areas more free and more prosperous? Who would invest in a frozen conflict area? If we think about the people and their right to live in peace and dignity, we need to oppose the wrong and dangerous strategy of keeping regions and countries unstable and dependent.

Dear friends, our eighth challenge is to note the difference between nationalists and patriots. A wise president, President de Gaulle, once said that patriots are those who love their country and nationalists are those who hate the different. There is a new wave of nationalism in Europe, addressing people’s fears on issues such as migration and high unemployment. Nationalists and populists have a loud voice and are on the rise. Modern patriotism is needed more than ever today, not nationalism. Feeding on people’s fears, nationalistic parties are growing stronger, promoting intolerance, hatred and xenophobia. Sixty-five years since the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights, they denounce international human rights protection for their own partisan gain. We must remember that the Second World War was made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect. We must never allow such a tragedy to happen again.

Three years ago in the European Parliament a wise and respected president said: “Better economic crisis than moral catastrophe, better economic problems than historic shame”. Those words came from the then President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres. Together we opened an exhibition in Brussels to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the saving of the Bulgarian Jews. In his words, “Bulgarian people are modest, very quiet and shy, but, at the same time, real heroes”. He called our nation an example of courage and humanity, whose people 70 years ago dared to create a miracle. Those people gave to their children and to the world a lesson for humanity: when the time comes to make the choice of your life, you had better make a decision that you would never doubt and you would never regret. The lesson is that you can believe in human values, defend humanity, be honest and brave, help those in need – your neighbours and your friends, no matter their religion and colour – and stand proudly because of who you are, because you can prove that everyone can change history.

In those dark years of the Second World War, Bulgaria was facing pressure to deport its Jewish community. At that turbulent time in human history it set an extraordinary precedent and saved the lives of all its citizens of Jewish origin. Unfortunately, our country was not in a position to do the same for the Jewish people from northern Greece and parts of Yugoslavia, as they were not Bulgarian citizens. We deeply mourn their loss, as well as that of all the victims of the Holocaust. We will always remember them.

Let us support every initiative against fanaticism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Even the worst of evils can be stopped if people with different religious, ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds unite in their diversity and firmly say no to hatred. Today, just across from my office in the very heart of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, temples of different religions – a well-preserved fourth-century Byzantine church, an Orthodox church, a mosque, a synagogue and a Catholic cathedral – co-exist peacefully. That is a great example of tolerance, wisdom, and respect for diversity.

The ninth challenge relates to national interests versus solidarity. Today, Europe is weakened by the high number of crises it faces. A perception of insecurity and lack of direction is growing stronger among European citizens. We need to restore the long-term perspective, goal and vision of a united and peaceful Europe. Europe’s strength has always been our unity and values. Our strongest weapon has always been integration. Today, more than ever, we need more, not less, Europe. We need leaders who understand that differences should be resolved peacefully. We certainly need strong political leadership and active citizens. We need leaders who uphold, not undermine, the international order. We want to see principles, not interests, prevail on the global stage. We do not want to go back to the time of great powers and their spheres of influence. Many of us have been victims of such policies for centuries.

A united Europe was built through co-operation and learning from wars and conflicts. A united Europe proves to the world that peace is possible only when nations reach such a level of integration and co-operation that future wars are impossible.

The wrong interpretation, and even manipulation, of history, and not learning the lessons of history, create challenges. Seventy years ago, at the end of the Second World War, Europe was in ruins. Tens of millions of people had lost their lives. The determination to never let such devastation happen again gave birth to a united Europe. Enemies became partners and friends, working together for a common future, sharing the same values. Integration and co-operation proved to be the antidote to destabilisation.

We do not want to go back to the time when the great powers allocated their spheres of influence. The Balkans have been victims of such policies for centuries and were considered the powder keg of Europe – a region filled with strife and conflict – but the engine of European Union integration and democratic civil society has driven the region to a historic change. It has changed from a region torn apart by wars, to a region joined together in peace. Today, the Balkan countries work towards a common European future, building bridges of trust and co-operation. But our work is not finished yet: that positive process could be reversed.

The interests-driven policies of great powers and associated peripheries provoke conflict. Closing our eyes to that threat is not a sustainable political solution. That is a bitter reminder that what we have achieved as an international community in recent decades cannot be taken for granted. The principles we have built our world on are not set in stone, and it is up to all of us to respect, promote and protect them.

It has been almost 19 years since a Bulgarian President addressed this distinguished audience. Bulgaria has come a long way since then. We, the Balkans and Europe have changed for the better; we have made remarkable progress.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, communist regimes across Europe collapsed. As citizens of a newly born democracy, Bulgarians believed it would take a couple of years to become a real democracy. Today, we realise that establishing democratic institutions and European laws is not enough. Democracy is a process – a mindset that has to be nurtured and cultivated. It needs time to take root and grow. It requires constant effort and should not be taken for granted. Our democracies are not perfect, but it is democracy that makes us strong and humane. As the former Bulgarian President, Dr Zhelyu Zhelev, said: “You can cure democracy only with more democracy”.

Today, Bulgaria is a proud member of the European Union and NATO. The engine of European integration brought dramatic and positive change. Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) tripled, as did public funds for education, health care and pensions. Our State debt has been reduced to the third lowest in the European Union. Bulgarians have never been as free as they are today.

Bulgaria is stable. Our economy is developing well. In 2015, we were among the top five best-performing European Union economies. We have an ambitious reform agenda and modernisation plan. Bulgaria is developing the most successful start-up and innovation ecosystem in the region. We became the home of the biggest start-up seed and acceleration funds for the region. I was proud to receive Bulgaria’s award for being the best outsourcing destination in Europe in 2015.

Our foreign policy is balanced and based on clear principles, namely integration, connectivity and good neighbourly relations. Bulgaria is an engine of regional connectivity and integration. We are building highways, railways, bridges and energy networks, to bring people and businesses together. The region is developing and is on the right track, but the past is still strong and the future still does not prevail. There are geopolitical tensions in the region, and there is a clash between entrepreneurs with sound business models and oligarchs who operate networks behind the curtains. There is also a clash between free media that tell the truth and media that serve as propaganda machines. We should accelerate reforms all over the region, especially justice reform, open government policies, anti-corruption and media legislation. We should promote transparency of public procurement and e-government, because when you run public money, there is nothing to hide.

The Balkans should be a region of international co-operation, not geopolitical tensions. We Bulgarians want to see the region at peace, humane and tolerant – a region that can overcome its differences and give the world an example of the peaceful settlement of conflicts and democratic transformation. We want Balkan borders to fall, not be moved. We are working for progress and development, for connectivity and integration, and we are accelerating cross-border co-operation. Co-operation between neighbours is a very powerful instrument, especially in the Balkans. People on both sides of the Iron Curtain have a unique opportunity to get together and build a common future. Now, all of us can see the difference between isolated, forgotten regions and those that co-operate.

Today, Bulgaria is chairman-in-office of the South-East European Cooperation Process. During our chairmanship, we will mark the 20th anniversary of that great initiative, which has become the leading political format for security and stability in the region. We are working on three priority areas: connectivity, security and migration, and strengthening the fundamentals of democracy, including media freedom, promoting access to the Internet and new technologies to support an active civil society.

Having realised the positive impact of European integration for the development of the region, Bulgaria is a strong supporter of the European Union and NATO enlargement process.

Over the years, Bulgaria has become a pillar of stability and an important factor in the region. The Balkans are a truly beautiful and exciting part of Europe. Together with our neighbours, we are working to deepen regional co-operation and promote democratic developments.

Bulgaria has been a member of the Council of Europe for more than 20 years. It was the Council of Europe that first welcomed former communist countries into the democratic family of nations. Thanks to its guidance in the years of transition, we managed to establish a modern democratic State where human rights and the rule of law are held high. We have come a long way since 1992. The recent reforms undertaken by the government in the fields of education, healthcare, security and justice are more proof that Bulgaria has taken its future into its own hands, that we are facing challenges in a responsible way, and that we are making reforms and progress. I urge this distinguished Assembly to lift the post-monitoring dialogue for my country.

It is only through co-operation, respect for the rule of law and value-based policy that we will be able to address the challenges we face. No nation, regardless of its political will and military might, can manage on its own. Co-operation is no longer a matter of choice, but one of necessity. The founding fathers of the European Union made history, but if we stop making history somebody else will make it, so we should continue our journey to a more integrated, peaceful, humane and sustainable European and world order. What do we do in times of difficulty and crisis? We follow not our fears, but our dreams and ideas.

We live in the 21st century, so we need new ideas and we must not look to the wrong ideologies from the past. In the 21st century, States should be strong not because of their armies of soldiers, but because of their armies of well-educated young people. Nations should be strong not because of the size of their territory, but because of the size of their dreams and ambitions. The strength of a nation should be measured not by weapons of mass destruction and propaganda machines, but by the talent, inspiration and culture of its people. The achievements of a country should be measured not by reshaping borders, but by the success of its ordinary people. We need an international order in which everyone is important, regardless of how rich or poor, how strong or weak, or how big or small they are. We need leaders who resolve differences peacefully. Powerful people cannot be a symbol of a successful State. Only democratic institutions that effectively serve the people are a symbol of success.

The important question today is whether the same generation that brought down the Berlin Wall will start to build new walls in the very heart of Europe. The challenges that we face are great, but so is our strength when we stand united. We all share much more than we are separated by. We share the great values of peace, justice, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance and humanism. The modern history of Europe is most of all a history of diplomacy, trade and co-operation, not of wars and conflicts. We must address urgent issues, but the only sustainable solution is the peaceful political solution. The only positive development is the inclusive development that brings opportunities for everyone. Success is to give, not to take. To prevent future crises, we need unity and rules. Success is to solve, not to freeze conflicts. To prevent future crises, we must understand that solidarity is not only important but has to be constant. We cannot have strong solidarity on one issue and no solidarity on another. We are a family of shared values with a shared destiny, not a family based on calculations and interests. In a crisis, a family does not get confused. In difficult times, a family stands together. Today, dear friends, our joint European project needs an extra dose of trust and support. Let us give it.


Thank you very much for your most interesting address, Mr President. As you know, members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. We will hear the questions in groups of at least three. The first is from Mr Vareikis, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

Thank you, Mr President, for your spiritual speech, which I liked. Bearing in mind your family history and your immigration experience, I have a question about immigration that was not addressed in your speech. Both your country and my country are among the fastest depopulating countries in the European Union. Your people, too, are leaving the country to look for a better life. What do you think of this problem, and what is your country’s strategy for dealing with it?

Ms MAIJ (Netherlands)

Thank you, your Excellency, for discussing the challenges facing not only the Bulgarian presidency but Europe. One of the challenges that you rightly mentioned is migration. How do we find a balance between protecting our borders while also protecting the rights of migrants? There is another challenge for Bulgaria that you did not mention: that of signing the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.


The third question is from Mr Michael Jensen, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. I do not see him, so we shall move on. The next question is from Mr Pritchard, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group.

Mr PRITCHARD (United Kingdom)

Thank you for your address, Mr President, and for your leadership in Bulgaria. We have heard a lot about refugees and migration, not all of which comes from the Middle East; much of it is from North and sub-Saharan Africa. What more can Europe do to ensure that the European Union pan-African free trade agreement is fast-tracked so that we can deal with some of the root causes of migration out of Africa?

Mr Plevneliev, President of the Republic of Bulgaria

The first question could be split into two: one on migration and another on demographic policies. On demography, yes, Bulgaria has a serious problem. We see a lot of well-educated young people going abroad. They are free to live, learn, study and work in any part of the world. Of course, the numbers raise very worrying demographic concerns. A president stands for long-term planning and for long-term solutions for the country, but, as president, I do not want to create artificial hurdles and to tell young people, “You have to stay at any cost.” It is great that young people are free and that they want to try to take their lives in their own hands. By doing so, they also learn.

I left my country when I was young and lived in Germany for eight years. I learned a lot, I worked very hard and I was truly happy when I came back to my country that we modernised and brought our economy back through better standards and better management practices. I have seen that being free and being an entrepreneur only helps you to make more sense of your life. I encourage all Bulgarians, wherever they are in the world, to try.

The other side of the coin, however, is that I want the Bulgarian State to be close to Bulgarians, wherever they are in the world. Recently, I initiated a referendum for e-voting. We have 1.5 million Bulgarians abroad, and through the e-voting that will be introduced in coming years the Bulgarian State will be close to every one of them. They will be able to use their constitutional right to vote in Bulgaria, they will be close to their motherland and they will be able to shape policies in their own country. I am sure that many of the Bulgarians who live out of the country today will come back and will contribute to the development of the country.

To improve your democratic perspectives, you need to address education, industry, working places and economic development. We can debate being poor, being undeveloped and having no horizons or perspectives, and the need for policies on marginalisation, but the question is how we change things and how we make progress. We do not do that through populism, increasing State debt to the limit or handing on the cost to the next generations. What we do in Bulgaria is different. We keep the deficit low and although we do not like the word that is so famous today in Europe and that relates to financial restrictions, we do like financial discipline. We reform and we try to improve.

For example, we managed in the past two years to create working places for more than 17 000 young talented Bulgarians, all in the computer industry. We managed to address the upcoming industrial revolution by welcoming factories from the automotive sector, which have created another 35 000 jobs. We have seen Bulgarian young people staying in the country because of the outsourcing of industry, which has also shaped new perspectives. There are things that can be done. We are now introducing an additional reform to encourage young people to stay, by learning from the best in Europe on youth unemployment – Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands – who have the so-called duale ausbildung modell, vocational training that brings young people closer to businesses and their needs.

Democracy is a long-term problem and could be solved with wise politics. On migration, Bulgaria is a very interesting example. Let me give you some numbers and share our problems and experiences. Two years ago, Bulgaria was the first to experience the huge migration wave, because we have the biggest land border with countries outside the European Union. We were unprepared and we had problems, but we learned from our mistakes. We co-operated with Frontex, with the United Nations Refugee Agency and with the European Commission. We invested money. What we did is simple.

We keep our borders safe. I do not see any contradiction between having security on your borders and respecting human rights. Our cross-border points are open. Everyone who comes to the cross-border point will be taken care of and registered. They will be interviewed and we have an integration programme. We have improved our facilities, but look what happens: in 2015, altogether, 31 000 illegal refugees came to our country and 95 000 made attempts to cross the border illegally. We keep to the Dublin Regulations and register everyone who comes to our cross-border points and facilities. We give refugee status, and in 2015 we gave it to more than 11 000 people. We take our responsibilities seriously.

As a President, I am proud, because Bulgaria shows solidarity. First, we have agreed on a common European solution. We agreed to the risk distribution formula. We believe that it is very important that the 28 member States in the European Union stay united and find a common solution to the crisis. There is no other way to do that but to have rules that apply to everyone. When Bulgaria keeps to the rules of Dublin and Schengen but other countries in south-east Europe do not, that creates the problem that we share today.

Bulgaria is also contributing by learning that keeping your border safe depends on your neighbours. I want to thank, in front of you all, Turkey, a neighbour with which we have very good co-operation along the border. That is only possible if you work with your neighbours. One of the lessons learned from Bulgaria for the common European solution, which urgently needs to be shaped in the next few days, is to keep your borders safe and to be honest to the people who are coming to Europe. We need to tell them that the numbers cannot be unlimited. We must differentiate those who are in real need and take care of them, because they are running for their lives, but we should also make a distinction between them and those who are just looking for better economic opportunities.

We need to strengthen our borders and we need a common approach. We need a distribution formula and we need to co-operate with Turkey, but who else other than Europe can hammer on the table and say “Stop that bloody war”? We understand Northern Africa and the Middle East. Who else but us, the Europeans, has the right to hammer on the table of the United Nations Security Council? We face dramatic situations. Ten years ago, there was the Iraq crisis and it was possible for the United Nations Security Council to allow the distribution of medicines and medical help to those in need within a couple of hours. They got together and took a responsible decision that saved the lives of hundreds of people. Today, 10 years later, the same United Nations Security Council has for five years not been in a position to create safe humanitarian corridors for Syria. That is the situation and it is up to us, as Europeans devoted to peace, to say that the only sustainable solution is to go to the heart of the problem, to address it, to be proactive and to solve it.

Of course, you have been asking about the balance between human rights and keeping your borders safe. I can tell you more about that, if you want. On the Istanbul Convention, I want to say loudly in front of you that Bulgaria will sign the declaration during our time in office in this great Organisation. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs yesterday made a very clear commitment to that. The Middle East, North Africa and Africa as a whole, especially given the refugee crisis we face, are an interesting case. Today, we need only to look at the facts. We know that a record number of people were displaced from their homes in the year 2015 and that the situation is even worse than during the Second World War. Even in the time of the Second World War, we had fewer displaced people than we had in 2015. That is the situation today. United Nations statistics show that 60 million people are displaced, of whom only 1 million came to Europe, and the latest figures show that 11 times more people crossed the external borders of the European Union in the first weeks of 2016 than in the first weeks of 2015.

How can you prevent young people from being mobile? How can you tell them that they are not allowed to travel and that they need to stay where they are? We are at the beginning of a period of human mobility, so we need to adapt our European approach to this issue in a sustainable way. I will work with all of you to set out an honest approach. We need to know our limits while maintaining the best possible standards of protection and defending human rights.

Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark)

We all agree that we must end the refugee crisis, and the most effective way to do so is to end the current wars and prevent new conflicts and civil wars from occurring. Mr President, what should the Council of Europe do proactively to stop the civil war that has resumed in Turkey and restart peace negotiations so we can find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue?


Ms Sylvie Goy-Chavent from France is not here, so I call Mr Viorel Riceard Badea from Romania.

Mr BADEA (Romania) (interpretation)

Distinguished President, what is the situation with regard to teaching the Romanian language as a mother tongue to the Romanian minority in Bulgaria?

Ms CSÖBÖR (Hungary) (interpretation)

How can we accelerate the legislative process, and what role does the Council of Europe have in fighting human traffickers? What will be done in that respect under the Bulgarian chairmanship? I am also thinking of illegal migration, which has grown in recent years.

Mr Plevneliev, President of the Republic of Bulgaria

The Council of Europe is an exciting Organisation that has frequently shown how adaptive it is and how effective we are when we act together to solve issues. We have a lot of international organisations and institutions, so how should we co-ordinate our efforts to achieve positive results for the international order? That is a very complicated issue, but the Council of Europe knows what to do and what not to do.

The Council of Europe is a platform for helping nations to become more democratic and keep to the highest standards of rule of law and human rights. I really mean that it is a platform. It is not good for democracy if somebody else installs the system, because people need ownership of the process. We will not find a good solution to the problems we face today if people are not given ownership of the process. Every State has to act boldly to solve its problems. The Council of Europe is a platform for giving a hand, but it is up to nations to use it in the best possible way. Sustainable solutions to conflicts cannot be achieved through terrorist activity, bombing and tensions; they can be achieved only through dialogue and debate. Solutions to conflicts will be sustainable only if they are based on an acceptance of human rights and the country’s constitutional rules.

Many of the problems that we have faced for decades are still with us. As the President of Bulgaria and a proud European, I hope that we can solve at least one of them sustainably and be proud that we solved it. The Council of Europe has achieved many things in its history. I do not say that it has to change, because I believe it is one of the few absolutely predictable institutions and platforms. People know how to get help from the Council of Europe, but of course it depends on the national authorities, because if someone wants help they have to ask for it.

Teaching mother tongues is a clear part of the Bulgarian constitution. We are proud that not only our constitution but the many thousands of laws and regulations that we have adopted in my country are completely synchronised with European legislation. Everybody in my country is free to learn and use their mother tongue. We have such courses, and everybody is free to make their own decision.

When I was speaking to the presidents of the Balkan countries, we realised something. The information we received from security sources showed that illegal human trafficking has become bigger than even drug trafficking and other criminal activities. It is big, dangerous and profitable. Millions of people have been trafficked. Bulgaria has adopted strict regulations on the issue, and there have been a number of serious police operations aimed at anyone involved in such activity. We were shocked to learn the size of that criminal activity and the huge impact of what is going on in Europe.

Human trafficking is a very dangerous criminal activity today, and I say clearly in front of you who represent this great Organisation of 47 countries and 800 million people, that no matter what crisis we face today – whether the crisis in Ukraine, the migration problem, economic problems, or whatever we point to – it can be solved only through a common European approach. No one among us is capable of solving those problems alone. Terrorism is a global threat. Human trafficking is a global activity that is creating huge problems for millions of people, and we need a common approach. Bulgaria is taking serious steps, and we have introduced a new package into Bulgarian legislation to support national security institutions. We co-operate with all our partners in NATO and a united Europe, and we share information. We act across borders, because the dangers are cross-border.


Thank you very much, Mr President. We must now conclude the questions, and on behalf of the Assembly I thank you warmly for your service and for the answers that you gave to the questions.