14 September 2010, Sheraton Hotel, Sofia, Bulgaria
On 14 September 2010, at the Sheraton Hotel, in Sofia, The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria organized a public lecture by the Ambassador of the Republic of France H.E. Etienne de Poncins, on the occasion of successful completion of his diplomatic mandate in Sofia.
The problem of the integration of Romani people in Bulgaria was one of the 5 challenges that Etienne de Poncins underlined in his lecture. He posed the issue of integration as a sensitive one and said that the Roma community in Bulgaria was almost invisible. In his opinion, it was not clear how the money from EU funds was spent. “We are talking about a Decade of Roma inclusion, but we cannot see where the money goes.”
The first challenge, said the ambassador, was the reform of the justice system. He emphasized the justice system as a cornerstone of democracy. He mentioned the recent changes in the Penal Code and said that things in Bulgaria had become more balanced. Etienne de Pocins described the “Borislski” case as a test. According to him, “the Bulgarian justice system recovered and the final result was satisfactory, but there were still other cases similar to Borilski that had yet to be resolved”, Poncins was firm. He believed that crime was becoming more sophisticated all around the world and it should be treated in a more complicated way.
The second challenge, which he outlined, was related to energy. The ambassador remarked that, in Bulgaria, the subject of saving energy was seldom discussed, and Bulgaria ranked close to last on the international indicator rankings of energy saving.
He also outlined the problem of demographics in Bulgaria as one of great concern. He noted statistics, which showed that by 2050 there may be as few as 5 million people living in Bulgaria. France had a similar problem in the 19 century, the diplomat said, and recommended more determination, public debate, and support for the family. Etinne de Poncins said that “In any case, the family and in particular the mother should not be asked to choose between work or children,” before going on to explain that tax incentives might form part of a solution.
The last challenge the diplomat underlined was a recommendation for more free and public discussion about the period around 1944, especially concerning the victims of communism. “After three years in Bulgaria, I can say that the country is on the right track,” said the Ambassador, who took office six months after the country became an EU member. He described democracy in Bulgaria as well functioning, despite having flaws.
“We still do not talk about ending the mechanisms for cooperation and control of the European Commission” said the French diplomat. In addition, trade between Bulgaria and France remains low and insufficient, compared to the trade between France and Romania. In his view, a campaign to highlight the attractiveness of Bulgaria was needed.
In his words, Bulgaria was considered to be a strong partner within the NATO alliance. Etienne de Poncins drew attention, however, to the problem of the modernization of the Bulgarian army. “Shouldn’t we change the method,” the diplomat asked, but added that “maybe it is beyond Bulgaria to finance the modernization”. He gave an example of the navy, where Bulgaria shared expenses with Romania, and of the general aviation squadron that operateed in collaboration with Greece.
Etienne de Poncins summarized his lecture by remarking that “the Bulgarian people are brave and talented, but it is surprising that they do not have enough faith in themselves”. He encouraged Bulgarians to be more positive in their outlook and to have faith in themselves and European institutions. “Bulgaria has many trump cards in all areas,” the Ambassador was clear. Throughout his three years in Bulgaria, de Poncins tried to spend as little time as possible in the office, preferring to venture out around the country discussing issues with the local people. Etienne de Poncins was leaving Bulgaria to take up his new role as Ambassador to Kenya with responsibilities for Somalia.