Israel should more assertively seek to join NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria’s former foreign minister has told The Times of Israel.

If anybody is qualified to give Israel such advice, it’s likely Solomon Passy, who spearheaded the former Warsaw Pact member state’s successful membership bids to both unions.

“Israel is part of Western civilization and of the Euro-Atlantic political culture and that’s why Israel shouldn’t be shy to vocally say that it wants to become a member of NATO, the EU and OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe],” said Passy, who served as Sofia’s top diplomat from 2001 until 2005, during a visit to Israel last week. “I very much believe that better integration and cooperation with Israel with the Euro-Atlantic security, political and economic structures will be very much to the benefit of both sides.”

Passy, who is Jewish and proudly mentions that he was hosted by the last four Israeli presidents in Jerusalem, said Thursday he is aware that Israel’s entry to these unions is not around the corner. But Israel should not be discouraged but rather initiate steps leading to eventual membership in these exclusive clubs.

Solomon Passy aboard an F-16 in 2007 (photo credit courtesy: Solomon Passy)

Solomon Passy aboard an F-16 in 2007 (photo credit courtesy: Solomon Passy)

“Israeli foreign policy could be more aggressive, aggressive in the positive sense of the word,” said Passy, adding that while he shares the view of many that Israel is isolated internationally, that doesn’t mean Jerusalem should not try to break out of that isolation.

“Our countries wouldn’t be invited to join the EU or NATO if we had not been aggressive enough,” he said, referring to the former Communist nations of Eastern Europe. “Bulgaria, for example, was in deep isolation after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Bulgaria was one as the closest allies of the Soviet Union and we ourselves felt the country was isolated,” said Passy, who was the negotiator and signatory to the accession treaties of Bulgaria with both NATO, in 2004, and the European Union, in 2007.

“But we didn’t want to leave it at that. We started fighting, we started changing public opinion and we started formulation of long-term goals. Of course Israel is, for natural reasons, preoccupied with solving the problems of the Middle East, but life is much bigger than that.”

During his Israel visit, Solomon, who was part of a delegation of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, a Berlin-based political think tank, met with President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Liberman’s thinking “is very much in line” with his own ideas, Solomon said. However, Foreign Ministry officials told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem is currently not taking any concrete steps to apply for membership in either NATO or EU. “We have programs with both, and we always seek to enhance our relationship with our partners, but that’s about it,” one official said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is scheduled to visit Israel for the first time Monday. One of the EU’s most powerful officials, Barroso will meet with Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Tuesday, he will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa. His keynote address at the event is entitled: “Moving together towards a brighter future.”

Israel already cooperates with the European Union in various fields (including, for example, with ESA, the European Space Agency) and bodies such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research, better known as CERN, or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which Israel joined in 2010.

“This is an excellent platform to build upon,” said Passy.

Passy, who chaired the OSCE from 2005 until 2009, sees “huge potential” for cooperation between Israel and the European Union especially in the area of information and communication technologies and high-tech in general. “Israel leads by far in this area — on the world scene — and having in mind the very positive ambitions of the European Union in that respect, I think that we could establish long-lasting and strategic cooperation between Israel and European Union.”