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Bulgaria: Foreign Minister Pledges To Continue Reforms

Copenhagen, 28 November 1997 (RFE/RL) --Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova has reasserted her government's course towards reform, and its desire to contribute to Balkan and European stability by joining the European Union (EU) and NATO.

Speaking yesterday at the end of a two-day visit to Denmark, Mihailova said her government enjoys great public support and the decision to join western European structures is clearly "the will of the people." Referring to Russia's opposition to Bulgaria joining NATO, Mihailova said her country is acting as a sovereign state and no-one will be allowed to 'veto' Sofia's decisions in terms of domestic and/or foreign policy.

Mihailova spoke at a joint press conference with Denmark's Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen.

Mihailova said Bulgaria is "grateful" to Denmark for supporting an EU-enlargement concept that envisions the simultaneous start of accession negotiations with all applicant states.

Denmark has often stated that this is the only way not to isolate some applicant countries, while favoring others.

Petersen said, "Once the negotiations are underway some states will inevitably lag behind." Specifically about Bulgaria (alongside Slovakia and Romania, all currently considered not to have realistic chances of living up to the standards of EU membership), Petersen has said the country should be given "an extra year" to prepare itself for membership.

The simultaneous beginning of membership negotiations is high on Denmark's agenda, and Copenhagen will press for the inclusion of all ten applicant states from Eastern Europe in the enlargement process. He added Denmark's position is being shared by other EU member states such as Sweden.

Mihailova asserted EU- and NATO-enlargement is viewed by Bulgaria as "two sides of the same coin." The Bulgarians, the Foreign Minster said, have "a very strong feeling of belonging to Europe historically geographically and would, therefore, like to partake of Western structures in terms of politics and economics." She added Bulgaria expects to be invited for NATO-membership in 1999, and is making what she called considerable progress in upgrading its armed forces to NATO standards. "NATO membership preparations are only a question of time for Bulgaria," Mihailova said.

Mihailova and Petersen acknowledged current trade between Denmark and Bulgaria is "far too low.' Denmark has plans to increase dealings with Bulgaria, especially in agriculture, Petersen said. But he added a prerequisite for this is the improvement of Bulgaria's economy.

Three conventions were signed between Denmark and Bulgaria, during the Mihailova visit.

One regulates the repatriation of illegal immigrants from either country. Such bilateral treaties between Bulgaria and other western European countries already exist, and aim mainly at hampering illegal immigration by Bulgarians. From now on, Bulgaria - not Denmark - will bear the costs and arrange for its own citizens to go back home.

Another convention lifts visa requirements for bearers of Bulgarian diplomatic passports. Currently, a Bulgarian diplomat requires a visa to visit most of western Europe, including Denmark. Mihailova said she believes this agreement is the first step toward a total lifting of visa requirements for Bulgarians in western Europe. But Embassy officials tell our Copenhagen correspondent that they believe such a development will take at least several years. The third agreement encourages cultural exchange between the two countries.

There was no decision by Denmark to grant additional humanitarian aid to Bulgaria. Last year, Denmark contributed $45,000 and the Danish Red Cross sent $100,000 in aid to Bulgaria.