Bulgaria’s key defence priority during its EU presidency is to push for a swift implementation of CARD, PESCO and EDF. What is your assessment of the progress made on these initiatives as of today?

One of our defence priorities during our EU Presidency is the development of defence capabilities. In this regard, we want to advance the initiatives mentioned which derive from the new EU’s 2016 Global Strategy. We think the work on these initiatives is progressing well. At times, things even develop at such a pace that it becomes difficult for Member States’ administrations to respond to all new ideas and take full part in the discussions.

On PESCO, we already have a decision on the first set of projects. We now need quick results in order to secure public support for PESCO. As regards the EDF, the legislative procedure for the adoption of the Regulation establishing the European Defence Industrial D e v el o p m en t P ro gram m e (EDIDP) is underway and should be concluded by this summer. The ambition is to maintain the proposed co-funding rate for PESCO projects. The CARD trial run is also underway and bilateral consultations are currently being held with Member States. Those with Bulgaria have already taken place. We believe that the links between CARD, PESCO and EDIDP need to be better defined to make sure the initiatives support one another.


How do you see CARD developing after the current trial run? What does Bulgaria hope CARD will yield for defence cooperation once it is up and running in 2019?

The CARD trial run is particularly important since it has to validate the CARD methodology, the agreed timeframes and the relevance of the information gathered from national MoDs’ databases. Based on this, the process will have to be adapted and refined so that it can deliver the desired output.

The CARD process aims to shine a light on the full picture of available European defence capabilities and to assess the progress of defence cooperation based on established criteria, as well as to identify new areas with potential for joint work. Moreover, we hope the review will also have an impact on the development of innovative industrial capabilities which are an important element of Europe’s strategic autonomy.

At present, defence capabilities in Europe are very fragmented and we hope that CARD will be instrumental in supporting the political impetus to enhance defence cooperation and joint capability development. The CARD should be aligned and synchronized with the NATO Defence Planning Process. It should be guided by Member States with the support of the European Defence Agency, the European External Action Service and the EU Military Staff, all of which have a role to play.


And on PESCO: what is needed to make sure that it does not remain a mere political statement of good will but instead leads to projects generating the operational capabilities Europe really needs?

To participate in PESCO, each Member State had to submit information, in the form of a National Implementation Plan (NIP), on how it will fulfill and meet the common binding commitments under PESCO. Bulgaria , too, elaborated such an  implementation plan on meeting the 20 criteria and commitments in various areas. It was incorporated into our national plan for increasing defence spending to 2% of our GDP adopted by the government in early 2018. I must say that the commitments undertaken by our country are extremely ambitious and require ardent and unambiguous political support at national level.

Additionally, it is important to note that at least once a year the Council will receive an implementation report by the High Representative, prepared by EDA and EEAS, which will describe to what extent each of the Member States participating in PESCO respects and fulfils the commitments it has subscribed to. In case a Member State does not honour its commitments, its participation in PESCO can be suspended.

As said, I believe that the links between CARD, PESCO and EDF need to be more clearly and firmly defined. Only then will we be able to achieve the necessary coherence among them.

Bulgaria participates in three of the 17 PESCO projects and is an observer in three others. What do you respond to critics who call this a lukewarm participation?

As soon as the first PESCO project proposals were put forward, the Ministry of Defence began to analyse them which proved a challenging task. When analysing the proposals, we asked ourselves two main questions. First: to what extent can a proposed project contribute to the implementation of EU priorities, Bulgaria’s national defence plan, and the NATO Capability Targets, all of which we must implement? This is important because we have only one single set of forces and therefore cannot afford to build separate sets of capabilities for NATO and for the EU respectively. Second: are there any project proposals which build on existing initiatives? Asking this second question is also important because there are a number of areas where at least some work has already been done, either in the NATO or EU framework. We consider it very important to make use of such work in progress as ignoring it would constitute an unacceptable waste of resources.

As a result of that analysis, we concluded that Bulgaria should participate in three of the first 17 projects. We are highly motivated to fully participate in them and have already allocated the necessary financial resources in this year’s budget.

Does Bulgaria intend to propose further PESCO projects in the future?

PESCO participating Member States share the view that it is better to start with a limited number of projects, but to work intensively on them so that tangible results can be achieved as quickly as possible.

Let me stress that there exists no direct relation between the selected PESCO projects, which will be implemented on the basis of cooperation with other Member States, and our own, national defence modernisation projects on which we have been working for a long time and which are at a much more advanced implementation stage.

Nevertheless, in the future, Bulgaria could initiate and participate in other PESCO projects through which we can acquire new capabilities that help us to modernise our armed forces.

Does Bulgaria support a European Defence Union?

Let me start by emphasising that defence still remains a national prerogative of Member States despite the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) related provisions in the EU Treaties. Many commentators think that PESCO could mark the first step towards genuine European defence integration, with the gradual development of joint capabilities and possibly a common budget for capabilities and operations. For the time being, however, the debate is focused on how Member States can better cooperate on individual projects and in domains which are important for our operations and capabilities, so that we can achieve better output.

The scenarios outlined in the European Commission’s food for thought paper on the future of European defence should be regarded not as alternative options, but rather as successive stages of future defence integration. Of course, the most ambitious scenario outlined by the Commission, that of ‘Common Defence and Security’, would lead to the establishment of a European Defence Union. This approach would require a gradual enhancement of defence integration, more investment in the defence sector, a common approach on defence capability building. It would, of course, also mean that Member States accept to give up part of their national sovereignty on defence.

Fear of duplication and unhealthy competition between EU and NATO persists and has in fact recently made a comeback in the public discourse. What is your take on this? Is it more of a concern in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe?

One of the CSDP work strands aims to deepen the cooperation between the EU and NATO. For the first time, we now see a very intensive cooperation and exchange of information between the two organisations as we work on more than 70 measures in seven areas of cooperation. For us, the implementation of these joint measures is a very ambitious task. We therefore would prefer to focus on a limited number of priority spheres, namely those where we can achieve practical results. As an example, I would like to point at improving military mobility and making use of the two organisations’ potential to build defence capacities in the countries of the Western Balkans. Having said this, for Bulgaria and for the other allies there is no doubt that NATO remains the pillar of collective defence and of our security.

Although EU-NATO cooperation has never been closer than today, there are definitely concerns within NATO regarding duplication of functions and competition, especially between NATO’s Defence Planning Process and the EU’s Coordinated Annual Review on Defence. I would not say that these concerns are more widespread in Central and Eastern Europe but that they exist in countries that are both NATO and EU members.

How can such fears be dispelled?

It is necessary to better explain that EU and NATO activities on defence capability development do not compete but rather complement each other. It can be achieved by ensuring greater transparency, by achieving concrete results in the process of cooperation, and by fair burden sharing in the framework of the Euro-Atlantic bond. Each of the two organisations has to use its tools with maximum effectiveness, bearing in mind that the Member States participating in both organisations have a single set of forces and assets.

How would you describe Bulgaria’s involvement and expectations of EDA? How do you see your country’s engagement in the Agency evolving over the coming years?

 The Global Strategy demonstrates the EU’s increased ambition in defence. Our basic operational tool in support of defence cooperation and critical operational capability building is the European Defence Agency. For this reason, Bulgaria has a l wa y s s u p p o r t e d e f fo r t s a im e d a t enhancing the Agency’s role, providing it with the necessary resources and achieving higher output. Our country participates in a series of EDA programmes and projects.

Among your defence priorities for the EU presidency was also the ambition to ‘incentivise EU efforts in the field of capacity building in support of security and development of the Western Balkan countries’. What do you mean by that, and do you feel progress has been achieved?

 The European Commission communication on ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’, presented at the beginning of this year, establishes the necessary political context for discussing possible initiatives and steps in different fields through which these countries can receive support in their preparation for European integration.

Although the strategy does not envision an individual initiative in the field of defence and security, Bulgaria would like to trigger a more in-depth discussion on the possibilities of capacity-building in Western Balkan countries with respect to security and defence. We hope that our initiative will be supported and further developed in other spheres during the Austrian EU Presidency in the second half of this year.

Being an integral part of Europe - not only geographically, but also in terms of civilisation - the Balkan region plays a significant role for the European continent’s security and development. The region attracts the attention of the international community and Bulgaria strongly hopes that both the European institutions and the EU and NATO Member States will actively participate in the debate we would like to put high on the EU agenda, not just during our rotating EU Presidency, but also in the future.

We are convinced that our region makes a substantial contribution to European security, and that its potential has to be developed with the assistance of the EU.

Krasimir Karakachanov

Krasimir Karakachanov is Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence since May 2017. He previously served, among others, as a Vice-President of the Bulgarian National Assembly. Mr Karakachanov holds a Master’s Degree in History from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and a PhD in International Law and International Relations.