Bulgarian lorry drivers were set to continue their blockade of Bulgarian – Greek border crossings on February 18, a move made in retaliation for the four weeks of sporadic blockades by Greek farmers.
The Bulgarian carriers said that they could shut down all checkpoints at the frontier between Bulgaria and Greece unless the blockade by the Greek farmers, who are protesting against tax and pension system reforms, is completely lifted.
Yordan Arabadzhiev, executive director of the Association of International Carriers, told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on February 18 that the Bulgarian transport business was up against the wall and could not further tolerate the arbitrariness of the Greek farmers.
He said that as of 9am on February 18, the Ilinden and Makaza border crossings would be closed. On February 19 at 9am, the Zlatograd border crossing would be closed too.
Arabadzhiev said that direct losses because of the Greek blockade added up to 300 000 to 400 000 euro a day, and the indirect losses were higher than that.
Bulgarian Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski visited the Kulata – Promachonas checkpoint on February 17, seeking to negotiate the full opening of the border with Greek authorities and the protesting farmers.
Failing in this, Moskovski said that he found the actions of the Greek protesters and authorities “disgraceful to the highest degree”.
“I cannot speak with a hundred drunk farmers and the Greek authorities to solve the problem,” Moskovski was quoted as saying by local media at the site.
Bulgaria has complained to the European Commission about the matter and Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva raised it at a meeting of the EU’s General Affairs Council on February 16.
Kouneva said, “anyone can protest, but this should not violate the right of free movement of goods and people in the EU”. She told the EU ministers that the blockade meant financial losses for transport companies and the Bulgarian economy.
In response, according to a Bulgarian government statement after the February 16 meeting, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said that the EC was in daily contact with the Greek government and was expecting the Greek authorities to send a letter the following day to the EC with information and suggestions on how to solve the problem.
Bulgaria’s Moskovski, during his visit to the border checkpoint on February 17, went on to say that he fully supports the protest by the Bulgarian lorry drivers.
Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry, in statement on the night of February 17, said that by 8pm, the Kulata, Ilinden and Kapitan Petko Voivoda border crossings were closed to all vehicles. The remaining three border crossings, Zlatograd, Ivailovgrad and Makaza, were operating normally and all vehicles could pass.
Bulgarian National Radio said on February 17 that a bus carrying 35 Bulgarian children who had been on an excursion to Greece had been blocked at the border and in spite of appeals by the protesting Bulgarian lorry drivers, Greek border authorities had not been able to get the bus through the border.
According to a report by local news agency Focus, a Dutch goods lorry carrying chickens tried to pass through the human chain formed by Bulgarian carriers at the checkpoint. The vehicle was stopped by a man who lay on the road in front of the truck. The man was visibly intoxicated. Border Police officers removed him from the roadway.
Bulgarian drivers and road carriers started a dispute between them on whether to allow or nor a goods lorry carrying gunpowder. The truck with the gunpowder was later escorted by the police and crossed the border.
The Bulgarian goods lorry drivers commented that Greek protesters held hostage Bulgarian citizens including small children, while they were arguing whether to allow a truck carrying chickens.
The Bulgarian carriers said that they would allow vehicles carrying children younger than 10 to cross the border.