Macron needs to reign in the anti-Bulgarian crazy talk for the sake of French national security

France’s President Emmanuel Macron just told a French far-right magazine that he preferred legal immigrants from Guinea or Cote d’Ivoire to the illegal Ukrainian or Bulgarian gangs.

Everyone prefers decent people to criminal rings. I prefer regular people to criminals. That’s not news.

Where what Macron said gets problematic is that he coupled Bulgarians with criminal gangs, as if that is the Bulgarian migrant contingent in France. Apparently, this is the Bulgarian migrant in France.

Maybe Macron didn’t sleep well that night and that’s why he was cranky. Maybe he bumped his head. Maybe he is just pandering to the French far-right. Bottom line is he needs to cut the crazy talk.

Bulgarians, unlike Ukrainians, are citizens of the EU with equal rights whether Macron likes it or not.

After blocking North Macedonia and Albania from EU accession talks last week, Macron is becoming the bad guy with the French accent in the Balkan action movie.

A big chunk of Hollywood action movies are produced and filmed in Bulgaria nowadays. A rotation of villains in action movies is periodic; after the Russians and the Chinese, the next baddies in Hollywood movies might as well be jihadists with their French accent. How is that for cultural stereotyping?

The rules of the EU allow for a big margin of maneuver in how an EU member state behaves, short of breaking EU laws. Bulgaria does not need to vote with France on the important issues in the EU. Bulgaria can be a good sport, or not. That depends on the attitude we meet.

France is EU’s number two, but every number two needs a following. A powerful state is not really influential without a following within the political group of states it aspires to lead.

Social constructivism theory of international relations sees the actions of states as a series of interactions that build on each other depending on reaction and counter-reaction. The relations between states are not static; they are created as a product of repeated interactions based on perceptions. So, Bulgarians can play ball with France on the important issues, or not. That depends. And on the big decisions, all EU members have to agree. Bulgaria has a veto there as much as France.

And of course there are those thorny issues for which there are no hard EU rules – just good will, such as the return of ISIS fighters back to Europe.

Bulgaria doesn’t have a problem with home-grown terrorism. France does. Counter-terrorism intelligence among EU members is key. Bulgaria’s geographic location as a gateway to the EU and closest entry point to the Middle East means that Bulgaria will know and discover things about ISIS fighters with French passports returning to Europe from Middle East terrorism hot-beds. We will have that information first, before the French intelligence services. Some French ISIS fighters will be trying to sneak back into France and they will be doing that through Bulgaria as a first EU point of entry. We also prefer hard-working people to French jihadists.
Instead of figuring out on its own how to deal with these French-nationality ISIS fighters with an EU passport, Bulgaria as well might decide to simply send them back home to France for the French to figure out how to deal with them on French soil. If the French want them back so much. I bet Macron didn’t think of that when running his mouth about Bulgarians. What is ironic is that by pandering to the far-right with basic insults against Bulgarians, Macron is putting in jeopardy French national security on a very hot-button current issue, and he didn’t even realize that. Isn’t the question of returning ISIS fighters much more important to France than insulting a nation? Bulgarian cooperation on counter-terrorism should never be taken for granted. As I already said, we could play ball, or we might not. It depends. What we don’t like it being insulted.

Unlike some EU countries, Bulgaria as an EU external border country does not send refugees straight to Western Europe. It has never been Bulgaria’s policy to send migrants straight to France. Bulgaria can stick to EU rules or could close its eyes for some things. That depends. Bulgarian cooperation should never be taken for granted, especially in relation to migration issues. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a migrants-related insult creates an actual migration problem for France, if say, insulted Bulgarians stopped cooperating on that front?

You get my point. If Bulgaria decides it doesn’t like that French attitude, it can start being difficult on many, many points which are actually vital to French security and politics which the French didn’t even anticipate. Because when someone is cooperating it is not immediately noticeable what harm it could do if they stopped all of a sudden.

In Bulgaria itself, one could identify plenty of negative stereotypes of the French; that doesn’t mean the Bulgarian Prime Minister will blurt them all out for the media to record. That’s not how it’s done.

For the EU to work, EU members need to cut down on insults. Stereotypes and insults on nationality grounds are plentiful in every country but they have no place in serious politics.

Oh yes, and I want Macron to apologize to Bulgarians.

Iveta Cherneva is an author in the fields of security and human rights who previously served for five UN agencies and in US Congress. Her recent commentaries have appeared in Euronews, The New York Times, The Guardian, London School of Economics, The Fletcher Forum, Euractiv, EU Reporter and others.

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