Blockade at Greek border: Bulgaria seeks EU intervention, drivers mount counter-blockade

Bulgaria is continuing to try to exert pressure on the Greek government and to seek European Commission intervention to end the blockade of the Bulgarian-Greek border by protesting Greek farmers.

Blockades of checkpoints at Greece’s border with Bulgaria are now in their third week, causing long queues of vehicles at various times daily and leading to calls from Bulgarian hauliers for government intervention – as well as financial compensation for losses.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said on February 9 2016 that the Bulgarian state was continuing to put pressure on the Greek government and was doing everything possible to resolve the problem.

He noted that Bulgaria had written to the European Commission and said that the Commission would start proceedings against Greece for failure to comply with European legislation. It was possible for Greece to face financial sanctions, Mitov said.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov had twice spoken about the matter to his Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, while Mitov said that he had discussed it with his Greek counterpart, most recently at a meeting in London at the end of last week.

“So the Bulgarian state is trying to really use all instruments and to take care of our people, but tension is growing, and it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Mitov said.

Bulgarian Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski has sent an official letter to European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc expressing serious concern about the continued detention of lorries at border checkpoints between Bulgaria and Greece and requesting assistance, Moskovkis’ ministry said on February 9.

Moskovski told Bulc that the illegal actions at the Greek border were leading to significant economic losses for Bulgarian carriers, who faced penalties on contracts because of delays in the delivery of goods.

Bulgarian carriers were suffering the most losses because of the obstacles to the transport of perishable goods, the validity of which has expired or will expire in the next few days.

The Bulgarian Transport Minister said that the border closures created serious obstacles to the free movement of good and people and Bulgaria should be provided with at least one permanent transport corridor for the passage of Bulgarian carriers to and through the territory of Greece.

Moskovski asked Bulc’s assistance in reminding the competent Greek authorities that the situation at the border affects basic EU rights and fundamental principles of the single market, with all consequences arising from this for the violation of these rights, in line with the provisions of the 1998 EC regulation on the functioning of the internal market in relation to the free movement of goods among EU countries.

Meanwhile, on February 9, Bulgarian lorry drivers mounted an action of their own, leaving their trucks to close the border crossing to all vehicles, in a move in support of their demand for urgent action by the Bulgarian government and the immediate lifting of the blockade.

In the afternoon, there were talks between drivers and farmers, resulting in the Greek farmers offering to open the border at the Kulata checkpoint, but only for five hours. This proposal was rejected and the border remained closed off.

The Bulgarian carriers said that they would not allow the passage of cars and trucks until the Greek farmers allowed traffic to move freely along the European transport corridor.

The protest by carriers at the Kulata border checkpoint was also supported by drivers at the Ilinden border crossing, but they were pushed back by police, reports from the scene said.

Bulgarian National Television said that on the night of February 8, the Bulgarian drivers had tried to break the blockade at the Kulata-Promachonas border checkpoint and had gone through the border fence. Summary proceedings had been initiated against the three and the case was to be heard by a court in Serrres in northern Greece.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova said that bilateral high-level talks would be held because of the situation of the Bulgarian-Greek border situation. The situation should not be allowed to spiral out of control, she said.

Buchvarova said that she would speak to her Greek counterpart.

“A problem that exists in another territory cannot be decided by another state,” Buchvarova said. She said that efforts were being made to calm down the Bulgarian drivers but people were extremely on edge.

“We are ready to strengthen the police presence, but we do not want special measures to apply to our people suffering from the situation,” Buchvarova said.



The Sofia Globe staff

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