Open and shut case: Bulgarian – Greek border blockade saga continues

All border checkpoints between Bulgaria and Greece were open on the morning of February 26 2016, according to a Bulgarian Interior Ministry update – but uncertainty remains about whether they will all remain open or face another shutdown.

The Interior Ministry said that as of 10.20pm on February 25, traffic through the Kulata – Promachonas checkpoint was flowing normally again after the passage of lorries in both directions was blocked at 6.20pm.

As at 8am on February 26, all checkpoints were open for vehicles in both directions and there were no queues, the ministry said.

The blockades began some weeks ago as Greek farmers mounted blockades in support of their demand for a halt to planned pension system reforms. More recently, Bulgarian lorry drivers mounted counter-blockades, with the double blockades periodically completely closing the land borders between the two neighbours.

On February 26, Greek farmers were expected to discuss the outcome of the previous day’s talks with Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and decide whether to continue their protests.

The Bulgarian lorry drivers have given the Greek farmers an ultimatum, that if by February 29 the Greek blockades are not brought to an end, the Bulgarians will halt the passage of lorries carrying agricultural products between Bulgaria and Greece.

The Bulgarian lorry drivers also have threatened to blockade the border with Greece during peak holiday season times, including Easter and the weeks of summer from mid-July to the end of August.

Already, the border blockades have led to large numbers of cancellations by Bulgarians of holidays that they had planned to spend in Greece. Unofficial estimates of losses to Bulgarian business because of the blockades run into several million euro.

Bulgarian members of the European Parliament have begun collecting signatures to call a debate on the Bulgarian-Greek border blockades, Emil Radev, an MEP for Bulgaria’s centre-right GERB party and the EU-wide EPP, was reported as saying by Bulgarian National Radio.

Radev said that the procedure for sending written inquiries from the European Commission to the Greek state had been initiated.

He said that there was no provision for the EC to pay compensation directly under such circumstances.

“The Greek state is not functioning, but we should hope that the Greek courts function and Bulgarian business will be able to, after court battles, receive compensation,” Radev said.

Bulgarian officials, notably Transport Minister Ivailo Moskovski, have been bitterly critical of the failure of Greek authorities to intervene to end the farmers’ blockades and enable the normal flow of traffic between the two countries.

On February 26, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov was scheduled to face questions on the topic during weekly Question Time in the National Assembly.

Bulgaria’s Parliament approved a declaration on February 19 calling on the European Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against Greece, a fellow EU member state, on the grounds that Greece has failed to defend the EU right to free movement of goods, persons and services.

Borissov has discussed the blockade a number of times with Tsipras, to no result. On February 18, Borissov too joined in descriptions of Greece as “not a functioning state”.

  • Update: In a statement at 3.45pm, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said that Kulata border checkpoint had been closed to goods lorries by Greek farmers. All other border checkpoints were working normally, the ministry said.

(The Makaza – Nymfaia crossing between Bulgaria and Greece. Photo: Bulgarian Foreign Ministry)



The Sofia Globe staff

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