On 9-10 April 2024, a conference on “Schengen and the New Migration Pact” took place in Sofia, organised by the Bulgarian Fund for Women Foundation under the programme “Mission: possible” within the project “Building an Inclusive Resilient Democratic Society in Bulgaria” (BIRDS in BG), implemented in partnership with the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL) and the Impact Drive Foundation (IDF), with financial support from the European Union (EU).
The aim of the event was to monitor and discuss the parallel impact on national migration policies of Bulgaria’s accession to the Schengen air and sea area and the EU’s agreement on the Pact on Migration and Asylum, which was voted on the same day in the European Parliament.

Bulgaria, European Commission Representation in Bulgaria, International Organisation for Migration, Bulgarian Red Cross, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Médecins Sans Frontières – Bulgaria, Animus Association, Mission Wings Foundation.
The keynote speaker of the event was Tineke STRIK, Member of the European Parliament from the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. Tineke STRIK is a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET). She is a Dutch politician and professor of civil and migration law. At the beginning of March 2024, Tineke Strick paid an unofficial visit to Bulgaria to get personally acquainted with the developments in the implementation of the pilot project between Bulgaria and the European Union on the prevention of illegal immigration, rapid asylum and return procedures. On 8 April 2024. Tineke was also among the MEPs who took part in the discussion in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee on the Framework Agreements on cooperation in the field of border management and migration with Bulgaria and Romania, concluded on the basis of the implementation of pilot projects by both countries.
In her presentation, Tineke Strick briefed the audience on the main documents that make up the new pact – the Regulation on screening procedures; the Regulation on conditions for asylum seekers; the Reception Conditions Directive; the Eurodac Regulation; the Regulation on asylum and migration management; the Regulation on crisis situations. She highlighted important concerns about derogations from the basic principles of protection of the right to protection, protection of the best interests of the child, increased use of detention at the border and accelerated procedures for refugees, including for vulnerable groups such as children and families. Tineke Strick also looked at the practical implications of applying this new system in Bulgaria, as a border and first reception country. She examined the increased responsibility of Bulgaria for lengthy border procedures.

The second panel of the event was left with one speaker after the Ministry of Interior did not send a representative to participate and the Chair of the State Agency for Refugees cancelled his participation due to another commitment just before the start time of the event. The refusal of state institutions to engage in a discussion on these important issues shows two worrying trends -information blackout on ongoing policy building processes and the establishment of new practices to avoid public tensions; or lack of sufficient competence on issues related to Schengen, the Migration Pact, the Framework Agreement with the EU. Both alleged tendencies are dangerous and unacceptable Last but not least, the lack of resilience and consistency of state institutions, their vulnerability to the political mood of the moment and the political conjuncture of the moment, is striking. We recall that the implementation of the Pilot Project preceding the Framework Agreement with the EC took place in Bulgaria behind closed doors, without clear accountability, broad and diverse discussions and consultations, and space for civil society. Regrettably, yet another denial of open discussion reinforces the above concerns.

It was this unsettling working atmosphere that was the main focus of the presentation in the second panel by Adv. Desislava Todorova from the “CPP-Glass in Bulgaria”. Adv. Todorova raised a number of questions that only state institutions can answer. Adv. Todorova also mentioned the discussion held on 8 April 2024 in the European Parliament on the Framework Agreements for cooperation in the field of border management and migration with Bulgaria and Romania. The discussion was attended by representatives of state institutions of Romania and Bulgaria, with Bulgaria represented by the Director of the Border Police Directorate – Anton Zlatanov. As the only representative of the civil sector at the hearing participated personally Adv. Desislava Todorova, representing the Border Violence Monitoring Network, of which CPP-Glas in Bulgaria is a part.

In this context, the event raised more questions from our national context than it provided clear answers. Unfortunately, once again European institutions are proving to be more accessible than our national ones, more available for dialogue and interaction. In spite of the challenges, we ended the event with a clear statement not to give up seeking the outstretched hand of our state institutions for interaction, talks and discussions in an atmosphere of transparency and traceability of the complex processes that are happening now and that are to come.