The president of the National Assembly, Mihail Mikov has met on 3rd January 2014 the envoys of the diplomatic missions accredited to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, Kristian Vigenin, Yanaki Stoilov - chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, the chair of the committee on European Affairs and European Funds Oversight, Denitsa Karadzhova, members of the European parliament and international organizations’ representatives took part at the meeting.
The chair of the Parliament, Mihail Mikov, acquainted the representatives of the country’s diplomatic corps with the accomplishments of the 42nd National Assembly during its last two sessions and with its legislative program, goals and expected difficulties for 2014.
Mihail Mikov has noted that the 42nd National Assembly had started its work in complicated political circumstances but nevertheless had implemented the optimum of its program. The foundations for constructive progress of the above process in 2014 had been put in place. The hard “fly start” of the 42nd National Assembly in respect to the agenda of the Bulgarian society and the European commitments had predetermined the haste in the work of the legislature in 2013. The chair of parliament underscored that the update of the budget and the adoption of the 3 Budget laws as well as the adoption of the laws in the social field had helped overcoming the sharp deficiencies in the social sphere of the country. According to him Bulgaria is the first in the EU that could boast with having established legislation aimed against youth’s unemployment. He pointed out also the legislative measures taken to lower the prices in the energy sector, as well as the legislative measures aimed at paying the debts of the state towards the business, thus providing a sip of fresh air to the national economy.
Mihail Mikov further said the Parliament’s priority in 2014 would be to pass legislation which stimulates entrepreneurship, lowers the administrative burdens and provides guarantees for foreign investments, limiting at the same time the abuse of market monopolies and practices of corruption, and creating conditions for lowering poverty and inequality. He stressed the Assembly has set itself a particularly important goal that is to improve the quality of the legislative acts. This task he said is not an end in itself, but is directed to raise the trust of people in the rule of law. The Speaker of the Parliament also noted the 42nd Assembly should become more active in the decision-making process of the EU. He defined the process of timely and adequate implementation of the European legislation into the national one as truly challenging and the need to start legislating in such a way that prevents adoption of incomplete acts and swarming acts afterwards.
Mihail Mikov has stated the parliament is looking with hope and optimism to 2014. He noted this is going to be a year of important events, one of great importance for the future of the European project, and we are convinced that with wisdom, courage and understanding of the shared responsibility, the citizens and leaders of Europe will find the true solutions for making stronger the foundations of Europe, based on our common values. In his view the first elections for European Parliament that are to take place, after the Lisbon Treaty went into effect, provide an opportunity for restoring the people’s trust in the idea of united Europe. At the same time we can’t remain indifferent to the worrisome and growing trend of Eurosceptisism, taking place not only in Bulgaria. With the election campaign for members of the EU Parliament getting more intense there are possibilities for growing anti-European, xenophobic and racist rhetoric, calls for segregation and discrimination, added Mihail Mikov." I am afraid that such messages put under question not only the principles and achievements of united Europe but directly touch upon the rights of Bulgarian citizens in some EU member-countries, thus undermining the very foundations of the EU”. Among the challenges in 2014, the head of parliament mentioned the difficulties resulting from the growing migration pressure.
The President of the National Assembly has outlined also the foreign policy priorities of the 42nd National Assembly. He noted as very important the topic of the full membership of Bulgaria to the Schengen Treaty. Mihail Mikov voiced before the ambassadors the concern of all the parties, represented in parliament, about the delay of the decision for full membership and accession of the country to the treaty insuring the common security.
Mihail Mikov noticed the task of the parliament consists in the powers given to it by the Constitution to remain the main institution that provides stability, legislates and exercises real parliamentary control over the government. He further said the national representatives are aware this task requires new quality of interaction between parliament and citizens, requires new forms of dialogue between the lawmakers and the structures of civil society.
The today’s meeting of the Speaker of the National Assembly with the leaders of diplomatic missions, accredited to Sofia is taking place as a result of the successful collaboration between the Parliament and the Bulgarian section of the British NGO, specialized in the field of Diplomacy and International cooperation, called Global Diplomatic Forum.
of the President of the 42nd National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria to the heads of diplomatic missions accredited in Sofia
2 February 2014
Iztok Hall of the National Assembly
Ladies and Gentlemen Ambassadors
Ladies and Gentlemen Heads of Diplomatic Missions,
Esteemed Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Thank you for accepting my invitation to attend today's meeting. The intention that led me in its somewhat untraditional organization was to offer an opportunity to talk at the beginning of 2014, trying to inform you personally and briefly about what was done in 2013 and what is to be undertaken in 2014. As you have noticed, in the invitation there was an indirect reference to the challenges facing the Bulgarian National Assembly. Not dramatizing the situation in this country, I think that there are distinct segments, visible enough, that could be described as challenges.
The origin of this perception of mine, and of yours I suppose, dates back to the spring and summer of 2013, when the Bulgarian Parliament began and continued its work under – to put it mildly – complicated political and even physical circumstances, full of political passions and ambitions, and – despite their apparent escalation – followed by a logical subsiding, the unique mathematical results of the extraordinary election determined a priori the political enigma of the possible prospects for the 42nd National Assembly and its work. Today, I am pleased I can tell you that the programme-optimum of the 42nd National Assembly in 2013 was fulfilled and the foundations for the constructive continuation of this process in 2014 have been laid. I would like to declare that as President of the National Assembly I have faced the difficulties I mentioned before as a real and explainable element of the democratic environment and atmosphere in this country, and considered them inherent elements of the manifestation of its political and civic spirit, of course elements that are not always manifested mandatorily in the form and content which we have already seen several times. I took this as an expression of the natural striving of any society and its citizens who want and insist on having a better present and a more secure future.
Which are the areas where we focused our attention?
To define such a range of topics is always difficult, because the issues facing the Parliament are issues that more sensitively and very directly affect citizens, institutions, and businesses, and in the end have an impact on Bulgaria’s assessment and her position in the international relations and in the global and regional organizations to which she belongs. Last but not least, the issues on the agenda should be “filtered” through the prism of different political forces in Bulgaria – controversial due to their ideology and public and political commitment to resolve certain problems, regardless of whether these are political forces that are represented or not represented in the 42nd National Assembly. I can say that with good reason this was one of the guiding motives for initiating and adopting in September 2013 a special Declaration of the National Assembly through which a serious attempt was made at synthesizing the political agenda and highlighting the most important topics where we should focus our attention and efforts. To present to the public and the people the perception and vision of the Bulgarian Parliament on the development of our society and the country in which we live.
I will define the programme of the National Assembly fulfilled in 2013 as a kind of “reanimation” of the constitutional framework of social, economic and distributive relationships. It was a quest for compensation for the legitimate expectations of the people and an effort to overcome the recent behavioural model of extreme political opposition, of simplification reaching out to vulgarization, of underestimation of opponents and citizens in Bulgaria. Before you today, I will try to find and track the constructive relationship, to stress the continuity in the legislative activity of the state, which is inherent to each state and without which no state can exist and go forward, without which we cannot identify the methods of achieving the common benefit for the Bulgarian citizens. This thesis stands closer to my understanding of parliamentarism and my attitude towards parliamentary and extra-parliamentary collaboration.
Let me quote to you only some of the elements of the Declaration of the National Assembly, partially paraphrasing and rearranging them:
Reducing poverty and inequality which are of general social and regional nature in the Republic of Bulgaria,
Accelerating economic development, attempting at more advanced legislation setting out the framework for a new investment and industrial policy compliant with the requirements of the time we live in, competitiveness and curbing the appetites of natural monopolies, creating new jobs through the vision of state involvement or enhanced assistance by the state in this process,
Stimulating various sectors in Bulgarian agriculture with particular attention to small and medium farmers,
Preserving the unique Bulgarian nature,
Raising literacy and level of educational attainment, supporting science,
Supporting national culture and spiritual needs, and paying higher attention to the Bulgarian cultural domain abroad,
Making efforts to address the alarming symptoms of a demographic collapse in Bulgaria by specific actions in the field of health care, and increasing the opportunities to stop the severe negative trends in employment of young people,
Full-fledged participation of the Republic of Bulgaria in policy-making in the European Union,
Creating political and technological conditions for what we call “Open Parliament” whose object is the pursuance of a conscious and targeted policy towards discussion, contacts and coordination of public expectations, requirements within the letter and spirit of legislative activities, and increased participation of the non-governmental sector in the drafting of legislation.
I would not miss the important sphere of multilateral and bilateral parliamentary cooperation, which is an effective means of conducting the foreign policy of the Republic of Bulgaria.
What was achieved during the first and the second sessions?
By the end of the second, autumn, session, the 42nd National Assembly – within 75 regular and 9 extraordinary plenary sessions – passed 75 laws, of which 32 were laws amending regulatory acts that had already entered into force. The total number of submitted bills was 176, of which 77 – on the initiative of the Council of Ministers and 99 – from people’s representatives.
Parliamentary control – only within the two sessions of the 42nd National Assembly – having duration of 75 hours, the written and oral questions that were posed were 664. Enquiries, oral and written, were 144. I am happy to note that it is already a regular practice of the Prime Minister, his Deputies and members of the Government to be present in the plenary and in the committees of the National Assembly and answer spontaneous questions asked by the people’s representatives every first Wednesday of the month.
I have to note that the Government has already presented three activity reports to the National Assembly, which is undoubtedly the right direction defined by the Basic Law on the Accountability of the Executive to the Parliament.
The National Assembly has adopted rules that aim at strengthening the examination of the accounts of independent agencies and regulatory authorities, which for years have remained practically outside the responsible parliamentary control and have not been the subject of serious discussion in the Parliament. Naturally, this leads, to a considerable extent, to bringing to light a number of aspects in the work of these agencies and independent regulators in the interest of the public and in response to public attitudes and expectations. The discussions focused on their records and reports have become a serious additional source of legislative ideas.
The laws have been adopted in a very short period of time and in a very tense situation. They have inevitably created the impression of a campaign-like character of our work. I want to emphasize before this esteemed audience, that such one-time, campaign-like line and a similar future trend in our legislative work should not be sought. Urgency to take certain legislative steps should be evaluated as a desire to initiate a long legislative cycle which, I believe, will continue in 2014, and until the end of the mandate of the 42nd National Assembly. This was the necessary “flying start” towards the agenda of the Bulgarian society and the European commitments, upon establishing this National Assembly, which in turn brought about the pace of the work programme for 2013. This is how the Parliament of Bulgaria gave expression to its responsibility and provided proof of its ability to respond to political, economic and social challenges. The adoption of the revised budget for the past year, three budgetary laws and a number of laws in the social sphere helped to overcome severe social deficits in the governance of this country (raising maternity benefits, child allowances, the minimum salary, etc.). Thus, Bulgaria has become the first Member State of the European Union that can say: “Now we have the legal basis for the conduct of the new European policy aimed at reducing youth unemployment”. We should not forget the creation of legal possibilities for reducing the high monopoly prices in the energy sector, which also came to meet some fair public attitudes.
I would like to express my surprise and disagreement caused by the prolonged initial absence of the Parliamentary Group of Political Party GERB from the plenary hall and its continuing distancing from participation in the leadership of the National Assembly and in the leadership of the Standing Committees. Of course, I should express my satisfaction with the fact that after all the GERB Parliamentary Group joined the ranks of the parliamentary opposition with a strong presence in legislative activities and parliamentary control. As a long-time people’s representative, and now – as President of the National Assembly – I continue to be a supporter of the understanding that in a modern democracy decisions are not taken on the street or through the media but through joint efforts, including confrontation of political views and arguments in the plenary hall and in the parliamentary committees. This is the meaning of the requirement for parliamentarism as the foundation of democracy.
The Laws amending the Budgetary Laws for 2013, including the Budgetary Laws on Social Security and the Health Insurance Fund, have created opportunities for the payment of a substantial part of the obligations of the state to the business. This debt was accumulated in a particularly intensive manner during the period 2009-2013 and today we firmly believe that the legislation in this area has provided the necessary “breath of fresh air” for the national economy and contributed to positively balancing the arising social consequences. Here I want to point out a universally recognized fact, namely that the Republic of Bulgaria, under extremely harsh internal and external conditions, has maintained its financial stability which is a result of the efforts of several Bulgarian governments in succession.
In 2014 we will continue to discuss with priority the legislation that promotes entrepreneurial spirit and limits administrative barriers, provides sufficient guarantees for foreign investment, but helps to curb the abuse of dominant position and the possibility of corrupt practices, and creates conditions for reducing inequality and mitigating the effects of poverty.
I would like to also draw your attention to a very important goal that I have set to myself in relation to the legislative activities in this country, which is an inherent requirement of the existence of the rule of law. It is an issue having two main dimensions:
The way in which the European instruments are transposed into the Bulgarian law,
Improving the quality of the national legislative process and the laws themselves.
If in the pre-accession period it was required to urgently implement a number of European regulations through the legislation, today we have experience and sufficient time for a more relaxed and deliberate implementation of EU law into the national legislation, taking into account the 135 years of national legislative tradition.
In connection with the above, I want to assure you that we are taking concrete actions and measures which meet the necessary understanding on the part of the Prime Minister, who is the main initiator of drafting laws. This is not an end in itself but everyday hard work to increase citizens’ confidence in law.
It is necessary to intensify the work of the 42nd National Assembly on Bulgaria’s participation in the process of decision-making in the European Union. Not only because of the enhanced role of national parliaments – a postulate stemming from the Lisbon Treaty – but also because Bulgarian citizens, through the national parliament and the government, should become a real and informed participant in the decisions of Brussels.
It should be noted that only the 2014 Action plan of the Council of Ministers on the measures arising from Bulgaria’s membership in the Union contains 48 points, on which the National Assembly of Bulgaria will have to pronounce and adopt appropriate legislation. We are facing a real challenge in this area of legal practice – how in a timely manner and in the most appropriate way to implement the applicable EU law in the Bulgarian legislation so as to avoid unnecessary and confusing “swarming” of laws.
Despite the challenges we are facing, we are looking with hope and optimism towards 2014. It is a year of important events that will have a significant impact on the future of the European project. We believe that with wisdom, courage and understanding of shared responsibility, EU citizens and their political leaders will find solutions that will help to strengthen the European construction on the basis of the common European values.
In May there will be elections to the European Parliament; this will be the first elections after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. These elections will be a great opportunity for strengthening the democratic legitimacy and an appreciable return of the citizens’ confidence in the idea of united Europe. Logically, the higher the voter turnout in these elections is, the more legitimate the European construction will become.
At the same time, we cannot remain indifferent to the disturbing trend of growing scepticism not only in this country. Parties advocating populist theses and ideas, as well as Euro-pessimism, have been gaining more and more supporters in a number of EU Member States. When going into the active phase of the campaign it is possible to witness an increase in anti-European messages and intimations of xenophobic, racist appeals, which are distinguished by their segregatory and discriminatory nature. I fear that the trend in some of these messages is to question not only the European principles and achievements, but to directly affect the rights of Bulgarian citizens in some EU Member States, thus eroding the foundation of the European Union.
Returning to the theme of European elections, I want to touch upon another aspect that is part of the challenges for 2014. The European Union will continue to be confronted with difficulties arising from increased migration pressures. Our joint capacity for adequate and timely measures and actions is crucial to neutralizing the risks related to the security of the individual Member States and the Union as a whole. In this sense, promoting the implementation of the Common European Asylum System and developing an integrated approach to border management, parallel to the strengthening of preventive actions in third countries of origin, is extremely important.
Speaking of elections, I would not miss to highlight the fact that the 42nd National Assembly has entered upon an advanced stage of development and adoption of a new Election Code. When it passes the National Assembly it should ensure adequate legislative basis for democratic and fair elections. In the recent years, serious deficiencies that affect the representativeness and the degree of confidence in directly elected national institutions have been identified by the citizens and by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (in particular by the Venice Commission). The new legal framework will be a reflection of many of these negative remarks.
I would like to share a few ideas on the most evident foreign policy priorities of the 42nd National Assembly. In this area there is continuity, and common parliamentary thinking and action that I mentioned before.
Bulgaria is located in Southeast Europe, in the Balkans, between the European West and the East. We, along with the other Member States of the European Union in this region – Romania, Greece, Croatia, have our commitments to integrating our neighbours in the European Union. We will continue to support their efforts to become full-fledged members by intensified parliamentary dialogue, cooperation among parliaments, friendship groups and parliamentary committees.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are on the eve of the expected inauguration of the Parliamentary Assembly of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) of 11 countries in the region. This event is planned for May 2014 in Bucharest. The process began in 1996 in Sofia and over the years has received and enjoyed a deserved reputation of “The Voice of the Region”, initiated not from outside but by the countries in the region. I wish to emphasize our strong attachment to the idea of the inauguration of that form of parliamentary cooperation. That was the reason for the establishment of Sofia-based Secretariat for Regional Parliamentary Cooperation in South East Europe, according to the unanimous decision of the Presidents of Parliaments of the Balkan countries at their annual meeting in Sofia in 2008. This is why it is not incidentally that we have expressed interest in issues relating to the statutes, regulations, administrative interaction and operation of the Inter-Parliamentary forum, I mentioned before. Both the experience of the Secretariat accumulated in its work and our active participation as Parliament in the formation of a new regional assembly, have encouraged us to continue to defend Bulgaria’s candidacy for hosting this Secretariat.
The next, no less important topic, which has a very strong internal political resonance in this country, is the topic of the full accession of Bulgaria to the Schengen Agreement. The National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria is glad that the competent authorities of the European Union, including the European Parliament, ascertained the appropriateness and integrity of the implementation of the uniform pre-accession criteria to be met by all candidates for this statute. At the same time, I want to express the Bulgarian Parliament’s concern and consensus in view of the delay of the decision for full and final accession of this country to the European dimension of common security.
With great attention we have been following the development and progress of the European Union’s Strategy for the Danube Region, which is a strategy for cooperation between the countries along the Danube River. We are convinced that the Danube Strategy is a new, more and more clearly defined and complementary tool for the all-round development of the region. We welcome and support the idea of achieving a permanent parliamentary dimension of this interaction in the future, and we are expecting the next step in this direction, which will be made this year in Budapest. The Danube Strategy provides many new political and material resources that we would like to take advantage of in expanding the perimeter of cross-border and cross-regional cooperation between Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, and why not in developing interstate and regional projects with other neighbours of the Republic of Bulgaria, which might have an effect on the entire region.
The National Assembly is an active and full participant in a number of prestigious organizations for inter-parliamentary cooperation. The Bulgarian Parliament is active in carrying out its commitments within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. In 2013 we hosted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (PABSEC). In this context, I would like to point out that we have witnessed a virtuous cycle, a coincidence which seems very positive in terms of focusing on regional issues, on the one hand, but on the other hand, brings significant responsibilities. It is a well-known fact that our neighbour and friend Greece is holding the Presidency of the European Union, Romania will chair the Parliamentary Assembly of the Cooperation Process in Southeast Europe (SEECP) and the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria is chairing the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) until the middle of 2014. In this sense, the National Assembly will undertake steps to support the programme of the State holding the Presidency of the European Union and will contribute to the realization of the goals ensuing from our responsible collective obligation.
The number of friendship groups with the parliaments of other countries is 78. Naturally, the expectation and frequency of actual contacts carried out by these groups should be most noticeable in the region and in the neighbouring countries of Bulgaria, but in any case, I turn to you for your support to extend this interaction, to have higher regularity of contacts between friendship groups in the parliaments of your countries, between specialized committees in the development of inter-parliamentary relations. I hope that the facts which I just enumerated are indicative of the broad approach of the National Assembly to bilateral contracts, which is fully in line with the foreign policy of the Government of this country.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you can see, even in the first days of 2014 we have outlined multiple tasks we are facing. It is the constitutional task of the Parliament to continue to act as a major stabilizing institution, capable of enacting appropriate laws, and to exercise effective parliamentary control over the Executive power. We are well aware that this task requires a new quality of interaction between the Parliament and the citizens, new forms of dialogue between parliamentarians and parliamentary groups, between people’s representatives and civil society structures.
At the same time, I firmly believe that such an interaction is impossible without respect for institutions, without a shared understanding that the constructive process of democratic governance of citizens can develop only if we all obey both the law – though it might be sometimes imperfect – and in a considerable extent, the unwritten norms of public morality, the requirements for respecting other people’s opinions, even if those opinions is different from yours.
In conclusion I want to note that this year we will mark 135 years of the Constituent Assembly, which laid the foundation of the Third Bulgarian State. Forthcoming is the implementation of many initiatives in which I believe you will have the opportunity to take part. Therefore, it is no coincidence that in order to develop the creative start of the Bulgarian society, we again have to turn to the example of the founding fathers of the Bulgarian Constituent Assembly who, 135 years ago, only a year after the liberation, gave birth of our first Constitution – a remarkable act in terms of its democratic and progressive nature, which laid the foundations of modern Bulgaria.
Once again I would like to thank you for responding to my invitation and to wish you successful work in the New Year. I wish you and myself a good cooperation! The doors of the Bulgarian Parliament will always be open to you. I would also like to express my intention to contribute to making meetings like this one a tradition. Thank you for your attention and now I will gladly take the questions of interest to you!