Via the Independent Balkan News Agency – Members of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee are on a three-day visit to Bulgaria to see first-hand how Frontex operations work at the border with Turkey.
The MEPs are to visit the region of the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint, where Frontex supports national authorities in carrying out border checks and gathering intelligence, the European Parliament said.
During the visit, from February 12 to 14, the committee members will meet, among others, Interior Minister Valentin Radev, representatives of the Border Police, international organisations as well as NGOs.
On February 7 and 8, Frontex’s management board met in Sofia, capital of the country that currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Addressing the meeting, Bulgarian Interior Minister Radev said: “We rely on the agency to strengthen the capacities for protecting the EU’s external borders.
“Border security is one of the most important issues for the Union and for European citizens.”
According to an Interior Ministry statement, Radev told the gathering that there had been a drop of 84 per cent in migratory pressure on Bulgaria, and he emphasised the active participation of Bulgaria through the Border Police in the activities of Frontex.
After the meeting, members of the Frontex Managing Board visited the Kalotina border checkpoint, to acquaint themselves with the situation at the Bulgarian – Serbian border and the activities of the joint contact centre for police and customs cooperation between Bulgaria and Serbia.
The guests attended check-ups on trucks with a gas analyzer and examined the CCTV and radio-control systems.
“I am very proud of this excellent cooperation,” said European Border and Coast Guard Agency Fabrice Leggeri during his meeting with agency officers seconded to Bulgaria and their Bulgarian counterparts at the border checkpoint.
The Bulgarian side expressed gratitude for the support provided by the agency and the other member states, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said.
Bulgaria, a member of the EU since January 2007, remains outside the EU’s Schengen visa zone, as does its northern neighbour Romania which joined at the same time.
With the backing of the European Commission, Bulgaria insists that it is ready to join Schengen. Prime Minister Boiko Borissov recently lashed out at opponents of Bulgaria’s Schengen accession as coming up with “imaginary reasons” to block out.
However, critics such as the Netherlands oppose Bulgaria’s Schengen accession on the grounds that the country is failing to do enough against organised crime and corruption, as evidenced by the regularly reports under the EC’s Co-operation and Verification Mechanism. Bulgaria insists that the CVM process should not be linked to the issue of Schengen accession.
In recent years, there has been a succession of arrests of Bulgarian Border Police and Customs Agency officials for corruption.
Frontex stepped up its assistance to Bulgaria at both the Turkish and Serbian borders in 2016.