EU foreign ministers divided over Western Balkan strategy
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Bulgarian MPs on Monday voted in Kiril Petkov, a Harvard-educated entrepreneur, as prime minister and approved the lineup of his broad coalition government, ending months of political deadlock in the European Union’s poorest member state.
Mr Petkov, 41, whose new centrist faction We Continue The Change (PP) won Bulgaria’s third national election this year in November, secured a clear majority of 134 votes in the 240-member parliament to take over the reins of the Balkan country.
He will lead an unprecedented ruling coalition with the leftist Socialists, anti-establishment ITN party and the centre-right Democratic Bulgaria, united under the motto “zero tolerance to corruption”, for a four-year term.
Appealing to all lawmakers to support legal changes needed to overhaul the judiciary, he told the chamber: “I will insist that corruption from the lowest to the highest level be exposed.”
The new government takes over following eight months of political impasse and two interim administrations after anger against high-level graft ended the decade-long rule of former centre-right premier Boyko Borissov.
The new leader has also made clear he will facilitate North Macedonia’s EU ambitions, in a huge boost for the bloc’s enlargement.
Speaking to the Financial Times, he said: “We will propose a new process [on North Macedonia], very fast, with a limited timeframe, just six months long.”
Mr Petkov will navigate a four-party alliance of Borissov’s political foes with a vow to clean up public life, speed growth to over five percent a year and catch up faster with richer Western peers.
His cabinet will have to steer Bulgaria through challenges ranging from high energy costs and low Covid vaccination rates to preparing the economy for eurozone entry in 2024.
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He told reporters: “My first task will be to keep the electricity costs for consumers at bay and boost the level of vaccinations at least to the average level in the EU.”
Households have been shielded from a surge in global energy prices so far due to regulated prices. The prices are set to rise from January 1.
The six Balkan countries of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia have a formal European “perspective” – EU code for eventual membership of the world’s largest trading bloc, although the process is largely stalled.
For the Eastern Partnership countries, the EU is offering money, technical assistance and broad market access, having done free-trade deals with Tbilisi, Chisnau and Kyiv, in return for adopting EU democratic, administrative and economic norms.
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Despite the lack of EU promises, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told Reuters in Brussels last week that even the steps towards integration worry Moscow, citing a Russian campaign to break Ukrainian momentum towards joining the bloc.
Moscow rejects the accusations.
The current situation in the Balkans was also discussed at the G7 foreign ministerial meeting at the Museum of Liverpool over the weekend, with the UK looking to play a role in establishing stability.
The Foreign Office talked up Britain’s previous role in hosting the Western Balkans Summit in 2018.
At the gathering three years ago, leaders of the six countries made commitments in a series of joint declarations on regional co-operation and good neighbourly relations, war crimes, and missing persons in the territory of the former Yugoslavia.
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