Online Conference on European Solidarity in the Time of Corona-Crisis

On 25th April 2020, an online conference was organised by PanEuropa Bulgaria and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bulgaria. The aim of the event was both to commemorate the 15th anniversary from the signing of Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty and to set an online platform for discussion on European Solidarity in the Time of Corona-Crisis. The event  continued nearly 2 hours and was organized via the Zoom platform and streamed live on PanEuropa Bulgaria’s Facebook page. The virtual conference was opened by Ms Gergana Passy, President of PanEuropa Bulgaria, and Mr Thorsten Geissler, Head of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bulgaria.

Ms Passy made an introductory statement and read a short message sent specifically for the purposes of the online event by Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister (2001 – 2005) who signed Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty in 2005. In the words of King Simeon II, “Bulgaria’s accession to the EU remains the most significant event in our modern history.”

In his opening speech, Mr Thorsten Geissler noted that mistakes were made at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, which made it easier for anti-European voices and fake news to thrive, and that the fight against the virus would be successful only with a common strategy.

The conference continued with a pre-recorded video by Mr. Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, who was serving at the same position in 2005, when Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty was signed during the Luxembourgish Presidency of the Council of the EU. In his video message, Minister Asselborn stated: “There have been many examples of solidarity, such as the transfer of patients from France and Italy to hospitals in other countries, including my own. Member States have helped each other with providing protection material and other medical resources”. Minister Asselborn believed that “green transition and digital transformation will play essential and priority role in relaunching and modernising our economy” after the crisis. (You can watch Mr Asselborn’s full video message here.)

Dr Solomon Passy, President of The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria (2001 – 2005) and Signatory of Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty, was among the online speakers who joined the conference live, sharing his memory of 25th April 2005. He contended that Europe today needed a common approach and strategy to fight COVID-19 and shared information about his organization’s Health Shield Europe Initiative and his open letter to the President of the European Commission.

Ms Meglena Kuneva, Minister of European Affairs of Bulgaria (2002 – 2006) and also Signatory of Bulgaria’s EU Accession Treaty, was also among those who shared their memories of the day of the Signing Ceremony 15 years ago. She joined the live discussion from her office at the Council of Europe, where she is currently working as the EU Ambassador to CE.

Mr Günter Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enlargement (1999 – 2004) and European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry (2004 – 2010), had also sent a pre-recorded message for the purposes of the event. Mr Verheugen was the person leading the negotiations with Bulgaria on behalf of the EU. In his message, he stated that Bulgaria’s accession to the EU “was based on true merits and nothing else” and that “Now, 15 years after the event, we can clearly see that the enlargement process was a full success.” Mr Verheugen further noted that policy makers did not “communicate efficiently the success of the Eastern enlargement.” (You can watch Mr Verheugen’s full video message here.)

Another speaker who joined the discussion live was Dick Roche, Minister of State for European Affairs (2002 – 2004 and 2007 – 2011) and Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (2004 – 2007) of Ireland, who expressed the view that Europe had been through many crisis and would be able to cope with the current one as well. In his opinion, “The current crisis will produce another period of change.”

Other speakers in the live discussion were Ms Elena Poptodorova, Vice President of the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) and Ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States (2002 – 2008 and 2010 – 2016), and Mr Maxim Behar, President of the World Communications Forum Association, Davos, Switzerland, and President of ICCO. In her statement, Ms Poptodorova made a remark that “If one or some regions are abandoned, it is all of Europe that will fall”, and Mr Behar maintained that “We need another high, big target, to reach and unite all of the Bulgarian and European people.”

The main speakers’ statements were followed by a discussion involving Mr Stanislav Daskalov, representative of Bulgaria’s EU accession negotiations team, H.E. Ms Maya Dobreva, Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and H.E. Ms Meglena Plugtschieva, Bulgaria’s Ambassador to Montenegro. The two Ambassadors made comments from the Bulgarian Embassies in Brussels and Podgoritsa. Several International Relations and European Studies students raised questions. Questions from the Facebook live audience were also read by the moderator of the event, who was Ms Bisserka Benisheva, Director of EU Affairs, PanEuropa Bulgaria, and Ambassador of Bulgaria to Ireland (2003 – 2007) and Hungary (2012 – 2016).

The event was concluded by Ms Gergana Passy, according to whom “We should try to look at the current challenging crisis as an opportunity” and “need to get adapted to the new tomorrow, which will be different from today.”

The Zoom platform used for this event provided the conference participants with the opportunities to comment on the discussion in a live chat, to raise questions to the speakers and receive an answer, and to discuss together the topic of the event.

The event was watched live on Zoom and Facebook by ca. 120 people. Within the next few hours, the video of the conference was viewed 3 800 times and reached more than 7 000 people – an information gathered by the social media assessment tools.