March 1. 2024. 3:06

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Bulgaria wants EU money for new border fence with Turkey


Bulgaria will not refuse the drones and radars offered by the European Commission to guard the border with Turkey, but it wants the EU to fund a new fence, President Rumen Radev said on Thursday after he meets with Hungarian President Katalin Novak.

“We have already sent to the European Commission (EC) the position of Bulgaria and the necessary financial plans to significantly improve the protection of the Bulgarian border. We propose to build a solid fence that will reduce to a minimum the possibility of illegal entry into the territory of the EU,” Radev said.

The current fence is more than 130 km long, but it is very easily overcome by migrants who human traffickers exploit. On Wednesday, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Brussels could give Bulgaria drones, radars and additional staff from the European border guard agency, Frontex.

The idea that the EU budget should pay for a new fence along Bulgaria’s border with Turkey was first proposed by Austria. This comes after Vienna blocked the admission of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen on December 8, 2022.

The Austrian government is lobbying for €2 billion in emergency funds from the EU budget to build a much more secure fence along the border with Turkey. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Bulgaria two weeks ago and went to the border with Radev. Nehammer then said he would not support the extension of Schengen until “real results” were shown in the fight against illegal migration on the Balkan route.

Until now, the authorities in Sofia have avoided participating in the debate about the fence because it is not beneficial to Bulgaria’s request to enter Schengen in the fall of this year. Building a new wall is a complex project that cannot be completed in a few months.

Sources of EURACTIV Bulgaria commented unofficially that the authorities in Sofia have already accepted that they should orient their policy on the Austrian demands shared by some of the EU countries. Bulgaria also acknowledges that the special monitoring mechanism of the European Commission should be unfrozen to fulfil the request of the Netherlands for another report on the fight against corruption and organised crime.

The bigger problem, however, turns out to be Austria’s insistence on a new border fence. The European Commission has so far rejected requests to provide money for a new fence, reminding that European countries can finance the facility on their own. On Thursday, Radev said that providing new equipment to Bulgaria is a good thing, but a new European policy regarding illegal migration is needed.

An EU-funded project to build fences is also supported by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) leadership. EURACTIV.com was informed that the idea is also embraced by the Austrian and Greek conservatives. However, a high-ranking EPP source told EURACTIV that this position was neither discussed nor agreed within the EPP party, adding that the rest centre-right parties expressed their discontent for this proposal.

“When we have even better equipment for surveillance and security, which will register penetration inside the territory of the EU, the main question remains. After these people cross the border and this illegal crossing is officially established, what do we do with these people,” said the Bulgarian president.

According to the current regulations, if illegal migrants are arrested on Bulgarian territory, they must first be registered. They should then be given the opportunity to apply for asylum, and if they do not, the migrants should be formally deported. Human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch warned that many European countries on the front line often resort to illegal deportations.

“We are against the tendency for Bulgaria and the countries on the front line to turn into buffer zones as camps for illegal migration,” explained Radev and admitted that Bulgaria currently receives support from the EU through Frontex, which is expressed in people and technical equipment for border surveillance and protection.

“Illegal migration is growing, not only in numbers but also in the aggressiveness they (migrants) bring with them. Unfortunately, this leads to casualties,” said Novak. She said that common decisions are needed in order for EU citizens to move freely within the borders of the union.

(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)