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Dr. Matthew Rhodes, professor of National Security Studies and director of the Central and South Eastern Europe Program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies’ College of International and Security Studies, opens the Tailored Seminar for Members of Parliament from Bulgaria: “Role of Parliament in Security Sector Governance and Oversight” held Nov. 30 at the Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. (Marshall Center photo by Karl-Heinz Wedhorn/RELEASED)

By Christine June
GCMC PAO

GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (Dec. 2, 2015) – Many of today’s European security challenges like migration and conflicts in Iraq and Syria come together in the Eastern and Southern flanks of Europe, and Bulgaria is located right in the crosshairs.

“We looked at how the ongoing war in Syria, the rise of ISIS and deteriorating relationship with Russia affect Bulgaria’s and all of Europe’s security,” said Dr. Matthew Rhodes, professor of National Security Studies and director of the Central and South Eastern Europe Program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies’ College of International and Security Studies.  “We also looked into the question of migration since Bulgaria is one of the countries that are on the route of migrants coming from the Middle East toward Europe.”

Rhodes led a two-day tailored seminar for 11 members of the Bulgarian Parliament titled Role of Parliament in Security Sector Governance and Oversight from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 at the Marshall Center.

“Bulgaria is important to us (Germany) as they are members of the European Union and NATO, and a neighboring country,” said German Heer (Army) Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Johann Berger, the German deputy at the Marshall Center. “Bulgaria is closely located in the southeastern part of Europe, and they have to deal with all the problems that might occur from their neighbors in the southern and eastern flanks.

“According to NATO, European Union and our German-American partnership here at the Marshall Center,” Berger said, “we need to always have these parliamentarian seminars for those countries, which used to be in a different system and now belong to us. We need to help them instill stability and security, and to overcome gaps and lapses in their system that they may still have.”

Bulgaria is also an important ally and partner for the U.S.

“The stability of Bulgaria – Bulgaria feeling safe in its neighborhood – is very important not only for the U.S. and Germany, but also for the security across Europe,” said Rhodes, who added that the last seminar held here for Bulgarian Parliamentarians was in 2009.

The Marshall Center hosts tailored seminars for Parliament members of countries not only from the central and south eastern Europe, but also from central Asia and Black Sea Eurasia.

“These seminars certainly play into our overall mission to encourage productive democratic partnerships in the security and defense fields,” said Rhodes, who added that two to three seminars like this one is held every year at the Marshall Center for countries in the Central and South Eastern Europe. “It’s important to include parliaments in our outreach programs as they play an important role in overseeing defense in passing legislation that affects the ability of their countries to respond to security challenges.”

Parliamentarian seminars also align with the Marshall Center’s new transnational mission as directed by the U.S. Department of Defense, said Rhodes.

“A lot of the topics we cover with the Parliamentarians in these countries, which are what they are dealing with back home, are exactly the ones that our new transnational emphasis is pointing toward like transnational crime and terrorism, issues of migration and energy security,” Rhodes said.

Attending with the members of Parliament from Bulgaria, were three staff members from the U.S. Embassy in Sofia and the desk officer for Bulgaria from the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. The Parliamentarians represented a mix of different political parties, both those who are part of the current governing collation and those in the opposition, and were serving on different committees such as defense, foreign policy, legal affairs, and internal security and public order.

“I am tired from trying to catch every single sentence because the information from all of the lectures is very essential, especially as a person dealing with foreign policy all the time,” said Boris Stanimirov, deputy chairperson for the Foreign Policy Committee of the Bulgarian Parliament. “We got the perspectives of the EU and NATO, and we had the opportunity to have discussions with the lecturers, provoke them with questions and hear sincere answers.”

Asked if the information from this seminar will assist him in his job in foreign policy, he said, “I am going to be thinking about that for the next several weeks to come up with conclusions. This seminar was really challenging for the mind, and I need time to analyze the international politics because there are plenty of factors that you should put into the equation.”

Stanimirov’s comments is the desired outcome that Rhodes was striving for with this seminar.

“I am hoping that the parliamentarians are better prepared to constructively participate in security policy making decisions within Bulgaria,” said Rhodes. “And, that Bulgaria is even better prepared to cooperate with its neighbors, allies, NATO and EU on security issues. By doing this, Bulgaria is internally more secure and also a stronger, better prepared partner for the rest of us.”

The Bulgarian seminar topics were: State Secrecy vs. Transparency; The Security Architecture under Ministerial Supervision and Parliamentary Control; Strategic Defense Reviews and Parliaments; Hybrid Warfare and Hybrid Threats on Europe’s Eastern and Southern Flanks; Energy Security in Southeast Europe; NATO after the Wales Summit; European Union: Issues and Initiatives; Economic Security in Southeast Europe; Civil-Military Relations; and, Migration in Europe: Causes, Challenges and Solutions.