On 5 February, Dr Ioannis Armakolas, ‘Stavros Costopoulos’ Research Fellow & Head of the South-East Europe Programme, travelled to Sofia, Bulgaria to speak on the “Duality of the crisis in Europe: Solidarity and foreign policy to a test.’ Dr Armakolas spoke in the panel that addressed ‘The crisis in the Mediterranean and the European response.’

During the two hour discussion, the panellists examined both the internal and external dimensions of the refugee crisis in Europe, bringing perspectives from Bulgaria, Germany, Greece and Turkey, but also looking more closely at the root causes of the crisis and what actions, or perhaps more appropriately, inactions brought us to where we are today.

Dr Armakolas’ presentation focused on the current state of refugee problem and how the situation has become what it is, the Greek position, both in terms of deficiencies and grievances, as well as the EU shortcomings. He also discussed the implications for the Western Balkans. While discussing possible solutions, he argued that the EU should play a central role but stressed that the current political constellation, both domestic and European, will complicate the possibilities. Additionally, there is a significant risk of Greece being marginalised in an attempt to isolate the problem. However, it is highly likely that potential exclusion of Greece from the Schengen zone will feed fuel to the fire of populism and euro-scepticism, without necessarily addressing the core dimensions of the refugee problem. To move past this, consistent trust building will be necessary among all relevant and responsible actors, including EU institutions, key member states and Turkey.

The event itself was hosted by The European Council on Foreign Relations, Sofia Office and European Debates, an Initiative of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Policies Coordination and Institutional Affairs Ms Meglena Kuneva.

In addition to Dr Armakolas, other speaker analysts were Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) in Istanbul, Mattia Toaldo, policy fellow for ECFR’s Middle East & North Africa, and Vessela Tcherneva, ECFR’s Programme Director and Head of ECFR Sofia Office. The European political perspective was presented by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the German Federal Foreign Office, and Meglena Kuneva, Deputy Prime Minister for European Policies Coordination and Institutional Affairs of Bulgaria.

More information on the event can be found here.