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Czech PM: Prague, Sofia agree on both migration, cohesion policy

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Sofia, Jan 22 (CTK) – The Czech Republic and Bulgaria agree on the need to find an all-Europe compromise on migrant policy and to boost EU member countries’ influence on the distribution of money from the EU cohesion funds, Czech PM Andrej Babis said after meeting Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov in Sofia on Monday.

He called the idea of migrant redistribution quotas “absolutely unacceptable.”

Babis (ANO) is paying a visit to Bulgaria mainly to discuss the priorities of its presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2018.

Bulgaria previously said security, stability and solidarity are its priorities.

“I am very glad that we share an identical view [on the issue],” Babis said.

He said migrant policy was one of the main issues he discussed with Borisov.

It is necessary for the EU member countries to find a compromise on it. The outvoting of some countries is unacceptable, Babis said, mentioning the situation in 2015 when the EU approved the temporary migrant relocation quotas by a majority of votes against the will of the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania.

The quotas are ineffective and they divide Europe, Babis said.

“We rely on Bulgaria’s presidency, and on our finding a consensus,” he said, alluding to a planned reform of the EU asylum policy including a new quota system.

Borisov said a goal of the Bulgarian EU presidency is to find a reasonable consensus on migration, which might involve the establishment of migrant centres in Turkey and Libya.

Babis said another important issue on the agenda was the EU budget and cohesion funds.

Both he and Borisov expressed their wish for the governments of individual EU countries to have a stronger influence on where the money from the cohesion funds go.

“We know at home how to use the money in the best possible way,” Babis said.

Babis supported Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen Area, for which the country, an EU member since 2007, has met all official criteria.

“We clearly support Bulgaria’s joining of Schengen,” Babis said, adding that he does not understand why the Schengen Area of free movement includes Greece, but not Bulgaria, Romania or Croatia.

Babis thanked Borisov for Sofia’s plan to host an EU summit on a double standard of the quality of food, a problem that has been for a long time highlighted by Visegrad Four (V4), a group comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

The summit is to take place on April 30, and the Czechs will delegate a minister at least to it, Babis said.

He called Czech-Bulgarian relations “very good.”

Borisov, too, said there are no unsettled issues between the countries, which are tied by deep friendship.

A Bulgarian journalist asked Borisov about an issue Bulgarians seem to be very interested in – the Czech semi-state giant energy utility CEZ’s withdrawal from its projects in Bulgaria.

“This is not an issue,” Borisov, evidently annoyed, said.

Babis said on departure from Prague on Monday that he would not negotiate about CEZ in Sofia.

Last year, CEZ agreed on the sale of Bulgaria’s Varna coal-fired power plant to the SIGDA company, and it is seeking buyers for its other projects in Bulgaria.

It wants to leave Bulgaria over long-lasting disputes with local authorities and also in order to focus on its operation in the Czech Republic and Central Europe, and on renewable sources in countries such as Germany and France.

Entering the Bulgarian market in late 2004, CEZ supplies energy to about three million clients there.

In 2016, CEZ launched an arbitration proceedings against the Bulgarian government in reaction to the interventions by Bulgarian authorities which, it said, harm its business, and to the unfavourable situation on the local energy market.

CEZ claims compensation worth hundreds of millions of euros.

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