EU presidency urges Britain to ditch Brexit

SOFIA: Bulgaria, which holds the presidency of the EU, on Thursday warned of poor progress in Brexit talks and told Britain it was still not too late to abandon its plan to quit the bloc. Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, said he had so far seen nothing in the talks on Britain’s exit in March 2019 to give him hope for a good outcome.
The comments will come as a blow to British Prime Minister Theresa May as her senior ministers embark on a flurry of speeches to outline Britain’s ambitions for Brexit.
“I really hope that the talks on Brexit will take a turn, so that no damage will be incurred for anyone,” Borisov told reporters in Sofia, where EU foreign ministers are gathering for talks.
“I’m not a big optimist. So far I haven’t seen any progress than can really reassure me.”
The EU wants to finish talks on the post-Brexit transition period by the end of March so negotiations on future ties with Britain can start, but has warned that deadline could be pushed back if there is no progress from London.
May’s government is battling deep divisions between Brexit moderates and hardliners as it prepares for crucial talks with Brussels over the future relationship, which start in April.
On Wednesday British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who was a leading figure in the campaign to leave the EU, called for Britain to throw off EU rules and to view Brexit as an opportunity.
But Borisov urged Britain to reconsider its decision to leave, comparing Brexit to a family break-up.
“I truly hope the British come back to the European Union,” he said. “One doesn’t make the right decision every time so it’s not embarrassing to change your mind.”
“When people divorce, sometimes they get together again because of the children or other common things they share, so when we realise and they realise that it’s hard for us and hard for them maybe we will find some smart compromise.”
Earlier this month Lilyana Pavlova, the Bulgarian minister for the EU Presidency, warned May against plans to deny residency rights to Europeans arriving during the transition period.
Borisov said Britain and the EU negotiator Michel Barnier knew his country’s position on the subject clearly, but said it was too early to talk of vetoing any agreement.
“Veto should be the last resort, only after all attempts have been made to reach a compromise,” he said.
Also on Thursday, deep splits emerged in the EU over membership plans for Balkan states, with some countries warning Russia would take advantage unless the bloc sped up the accession process.
Boyko Borisov warned it was now or never for expanding the EU into the Balkans as concerns grow about Moscow’s influence in the bloc’s eastern backyard.
Last week the European Union unveiled its new strategy for the region, which aims to give membership to some states by 2025 but insists they must first resolve all border rows.
The frontrunners to join are Montenegro and Serbia, with Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia lagging, but all are getting impatient after the EU put expansion on hold four years ago.
“If there’s no enlargement now, there’ll be no other time for enlargement,” said Borisov, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
“Otherwise what China, Russia, Turkey are planning for the region, they will start today.”
EU foreign ministers are holding talks on the Western Balkan strategy in Sofia, with national leaders set to formally endorse the plan at a special summit in the Bulgarian capital in May.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijarto said the 2025 target was “very late” for Montenegro and Serbia and echoed Borisov’s warning about outside players making their move.
“It is obvious the US has a strategy on the Western Balkans, Russia has a strategy on the Western Balkans, Turkey has a strategy on the Western Balkans — it is only the European Union which is extremely slow,” he said.
“If we take it seriously that we, the European Union, would like to be the winner regarding strategies and regarding endeavours on the Western Balkans we should be much quicker.”