(Corrects paragraph six to show that Radev was backed by the
Socialist party, not that he was is a member of the party)
By Tsvetelia Tsolova
SOFIA, March 21 Bulgarian centre-right leader
Boiko Borisov, hoping to return to government at elections on
Sunday, said on Tuesday Bulgaria should work to deepen its
integration within the European Union as quickly as possible.
The GERB party of Borisov, 57, who has led two centre-right
governments since 2009, is vying with the leftist Socialists who
take a more sympathetic line towards former Soviet masters in
"Bulgaria's membership of the EU, even if it's not
fashionable to talk about it now in Bulgaria, is the best thing
to happen to us," Borisov told Reuters in an interview.
Bulgaria became an effective transit route into the EU for
migrants heading largely from the Middle East and South Asia, a
development that aroused great controversy.
The EU itself faces trying times with anti-EU parties
competing for influence at elections in France and Germany this
year. Dutch anti-immigration and anti-EU politician Geert
Wilders finished a strong second place in elections this month.
Borisov's government resigned in November after its
candidate lost the presidential polls to the pro-Russian,
Socialist-backed Rumen Radev, and Bulgaria is currently in the
hands of a caretaker administration.
The pro-EU and pro-market GERB, has maintained a tiny lead
in opinion polls over the Socialists, who favour a bigger role
for the state in the economy.
But with every fifth Bulgarian yet undecided, the vote is
unpredictable and the Balkan country is likely to have another
fragile coalition government.
Migration has been a focus of tensions with the EU and an
issue in domestic politics.
Migrant inflows through Bulgaria, which lays on one of the
routes to northern Europe, eased significantly last year. But
increased tensions between Ankara and the EU, have renewed fears
that Turkey back down on a deal that has curbed the flow of
migrants from its territory.
Bulgaria, a Black Sea nation of 7.2 million people, joined
the EU in 2007 but still depends almost entirely on Russia for
its energy supplies and Russian tourists are an important source
of revenue. It remains under close EU scrutiny on issues of
corruption and organised crime that have eaten at his support,
now at 29.8 percent compared to 32.7 percent in 2014 elections.
"We are heading in the right direction. Now we have to make
the utmost effort in combating corruption, in combating
smuggling...These are things we can do," he said.
Relations with Russia are a sensitive political issue in a
country that was closely allied to Moscow through the Cold War.
Bulgarians share a similar language and the Cyrillic alphabet
with the Russians.
The Socialists, built on the former Communist Party, pledge
to block any extension of EU sanctions imposed on Russia over
its 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
"We continue to be against the Crimea (annexation), because
when borders are changed by force, Bulgaria becomes vulnerable,"
($1 = 0.9250 euros)
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Ralph Boulton)