"Intensified Dialogue NATO-Bulgaria"
Speech by Mrs Nadezhda Mihailova
Minister of Foreign Affairs
of the Republic of Bulgaria
Members of the Council,
It is an honour and privilege to meet you today for another meeting of the Intensified dialogue between NATO and Bulgaria. We attach to this format particular importance, as it gives additional opportunities for frank and substantial exchange of views. Less than a month ago we received in Sofia Sec. Gen. Solana. This makes my task today easier, as you may have already been briefed in detail about the results of what we believe was a very successful visit.
It is my intention to focus on several major issues, which directly relate to our top priority- membership in the Alliance as soon as possible. First- what we see as achievements of Bulgaria for the past year. Second- our deepening relationship with NATO. Third- our contribution to the Allied effort of making Southeast Europe a safer and more secure region.
And last but not least, as we call today's meeting a "dialogue", I would very much appreciate your comments and suggestions. Of particular importance to us is how NATO nations see the practical implementation of the "open door policy" and what we can do together vis--vis the situation in Kosovo.
The economic policies of the Government have been implemented successfully. Monthly inflation was brought to between 0.5 and 1.5%. It is expected to stabilize in 1998 at an annual rate of 16%.
The budget registered an increase in revenues and the budget deficit amounted to just 3.1% of the GDP in 1997. It is forecast to decline further to 2% in 1998 and to near zero in subsequent years.
After several years of economic decline, the combination of stabilization and bold structural reforms has allowed Bulgaria to shift to a sustained economic growth. GDP real growth rate is forecast to be 4.0% in 1998, and, subsequently, between 3 and 5 % in 1999-2001.
The Government is implementing an accelerated privatization program. The goal set for 1998 is to divest about 40% of the state-owned enterprizes which represents twice the amount achieved over the past six years.
The successful economic program has won the recognition of the International Financial Institutions and the world economic community.
Equally important, we are implementing an administrative reform with the aim of having in the medium term a high quality professional, effective and uncorrupt public administration.
Another priority of the Government is the crack-down on corruption and organized crime. We have achieved substantial and visible results. The on-going legal and judicial reforms strengthen the rule of law and promote the effective prosecution of criminal activities.
I will mention reform of the Armed Forces in the context of NATO membership. But before doing so I will underline a very important factor. This is the unique stability of the present political system. We hold a reformist near absolute majority in Parliament, which is expected to last for the 3 coming years at least. There is a clear unity of purpose of all state institutions- President, Parliament, Government. And notwithstanding the economic and social hardships, the Government enjoys a continuing and stable public support of more than 50%.
Speaking about broad national consensus over reforms and foreign and security policy orientation I can not miss emphasizing another very important development. Just over a week ago the new National Security Concept was adopted by overwhelming majority in Parliament. It reaffirms NATO membership as a top priority and as a strategic national interest of Bulgaria.
We welcome the successful development of NATO enlargement. The smooth proceeding of the ratification process is an expression of confidence in the stable democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. The forthcoming review in April 1999 should take due account of this positive development and result in new invitations.
The consistency of the "open door" policy is of utmost importance. Ideas to impose a pause in the process are not compatible with the spirit of this policy. Politically, a postponement of further NATO enlargement would be unacceptable as it would undermine the whole philosophy of European reintegration. It would also revive memories of Yalta. In practical terms, as we are syncronizing and adapting our defense reforms to the requirements of an allied defense within NATO, any uncertainty would seriously undermine the credibility and sustainability of the effort.
Today, for Bulgaria the membership in NATO is increasingly a matter of what remains to be done by the day of actual accession. The key elements on the agenda are:
- early implementation of the reform and modernization of the armed forces, enhancing the democratic control, and improving interoperability with NATO forces;
- training the military to the responsibilities related to membership, with a special emphasis on language training;
- armaments cooperation with NATO member states;
- planning and providing credible budgeting.
In compliance with the General Plan for the reform of the Armed Forces, an overall restructuring and redeployment has started. At the end of the process, Bulgaria will have about 75,000 troops. They will be interoperable with NATO forces and able to contribute to the collective defense of the Alliance, as well as to join the crisis management efforts of the international community.
Interoperability with Allied procedures and equipment is an essential part of the reform.
We have also focused on improving civilian control in compliance with generally accepted principles and practices. The efforts are directed at improvement of the legal basis and, importantly, overcoming the deficit of civilian experts on defense planning and management.
Recently the Government has adopted a Program for restructuring and privatization of the defense industry. As a result of the envisaged privatization, only 5 defense industrial enterprises will remain under state control while the rest will be fully privatized.
A comprehensive review is underway of Bulgaria's compatibility with NATO in all areas relevant to the future membership, such as legislation, civil-military relations, defense support and defense industrial basis, infrastructure, etc. Together with the assessment of the implementation of the Interoperability Objectives, the review will serve as a basis for a more detailed and comprehensive pre-accession program. The results will be presented to the Alliance and the member states and we rely on your assistance for the successful accomplishment of this endeavor.
We are doing our best to sustain the dynamics of the integration process. Equally important for us, however, are the "positive messages" coming from the Alliance and its member states. We expect that in the documents issued by the North Atlantic Council and other high-level NATO bodies - in the context of the open door policy - Bulgaria is recognized among advanced candidates.
The Madrid Summit clearly pointed out the need and advantages of NATO enlarging southeastward. The grave situation in Kosovo and the formation of an openly nationalist government in Serbia, as well as the continuing instability in Albania strongly reaffirm this assessment. Bulgaria shares the concern about with the worsening tensions in Kosovo.
The international community should find, and probably force, a way out of the present deadlock created by the unwillingness of both parties to start a meaningful and responsible dialogue. We believe that the efforts of the Contact Group should be concentrated on preparing the ground and formulating a framework for the future talks and exercising a pressure on both parties to accept it.
The Bulgarian views in that respect were elaborated in my letters to the Ministers of foreign affairs of the United States, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Russia, with the view to contribute to the discussion during the forthcoming meeting of the Contact Group in Rome on 29 April.
The Joint Statements of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Countries of Southeastern Europe, issued recently in Sofia and Bonn following a Bulgarian initiative, express the aspirations of these states to contribute to the efforts of the Contact Group. They also reflect the new spirit in the relations between the countries of the region, and their responsible approach towards regional security and stability. For the first time in long years, these countries managed to voice a common position on an issue of immediate concern. Here I should appraise the very positive and forthcoming attitude of Greece and Turkey, two NATO member States and our good neighbors.
With its initiatives on Kosovo, Bulgaria confirmed that it is part of the solution of the problems in the region and Europe. Together with other stable democracies of the region we form a "belt of security" around the conflict area. Making this belt stronger is yet another reason for the inclusion of Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia as full members in NATO and the European Union.
The Southeast Europe Action Plan announced by President Clinton at his meeting with President Stoyanov last February is major development. We expect an active contribution of the European Allies in achieving the important goals of the Action Plan. A consultation process between Bulgaria and Germany on political/military issues, including regional security has started. A similar bilateral process is to be initiated shortly with France.
Regional security and defense cooperation has been promoted by the Sofia Defense Ministerial last October. Among the follow-up activities, the participating countries of the region are setting up a joint multinational peacekeeping brigade for participation in NATO and WEU- led operations.
At the same time we attach particular importance to regional cooperation concerning the new challenges and risks of a broader nature, such as organized crime, drug trafficking, international terrorism, illegal arms trade.
There have already been a series of high level meetings involving Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, and Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. A trilateral Summit in Turkey 10 days ago resulted in the signature of an agreement against organized crime. In a few days another trilateral Summit is to convene, this time in Greece. Ministerials are becoming more frequent, increasingly focusing on demand-driven cooperation, as the last one we had in Santorin, Greece.
There is an increased awareness of the pressing need to improve and further develop the regional infrastructure, including roads, energy transportation, telecommunications etc. Strong regional ties and interlinked economies are the best guarantee for security and stability. They are a must for Bulgaria, Romania and other countries aspiring for NATO and EU membership. There are yet other reasons why Bulgaria and other countries of the region appeal for a faster diversification of the strategically important infrastructure, linking them, and not only them, with Europe and vice versa. As stability on the territory of Former Yugoslavia deteriorates, the threat of being cut off from Europe again, like during the previous sanctions period, becomes real. The building of a new bridge, or bridges across the Danube into Romania and thence to Europe becomes critical for our economic survival. The political aspects of this issue by far overrule the technical ones. Building alternatives to the present only highway across Serbia is not only in the economic interest of Europe, but also in the wider interest of the international community, striving to find solutions to the Kosovo and other regional problems.
I thank you for your attention.