Bulgarian Parliament approves deal to end energy, mine workers’ protests

Bulgarian MPs voted on October 4 to approve the deal struck by the country’s Prime Minister Nikoai Denkov with representatives of the energy and mine workers protesting against the Bulgarian government’s plan for the eventual closure of the country’s coal industry.

The vote on the motion passed by 133 votes in favour and 66 opposed. Support came from the largest two groups backing the Denkov government, GERB-UDF and WCC-DB, as well as the predominantly ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms, while opposition parties all voted against the motion.

The seven-point agreement was reached late on October 3, following a day of talks between Denkov, parliamentary parties and trade unions representing the energy and mine workers.

Parliament held a special sitting to vote on the agreement, with the rationale that it would cement cross-party support for the deal. The debate preceding the vote, however, was ill-tempered and frequently devolved into personal attacks, with Speaker Rossen Zhelyazkov handing out numerous warnings to MPs for using unparliamentary language.

In a statement, the government’s media service said that the seven-point memorandum had specific deadlines for measures to be pushed through. The statement said that the energy workers’ representatives agreed to the deal, while the mine workers trade unions asked for more time to discuss the terms with their membership.

The first two points of deal meant, in effect, that the government would not shut down coal-fuelled power plants “administratively,” Denkov said in the statement.

“Those plants, whether state- or privately-owned, will continue to operate freely and the market will decide which ones will be left,” he said.

The government committed to keep an unspecified amount of coal-powered electricity generation capacity on standby, which would “guarantee the stability of the country’s energy system, in order to avoid problems in the supply of electricity to the economy and household consumers,” the statement said.

Additionally, the government would draft a new energy strategy by the end of November, which would chart the sector’s medium-term course to 2030, with some long-term targets for 2050.

“Social partners,” a term generally used to cover stakeholders such as trade unions and local communities, would be included in the drafting of that strategy, the government statement said.

Additionally, the Cabinet committed to “complete transparency” of the process to find future investors in “coal regions,” again with the participation of local stakeholders.

Another point in the agreement is that the government would no longer set up a state company to look into the prospect of using land in coal-mining regions for other economic activities.

The statement pointed out that the creation of such a company was included in Territorial Just Transition Plans, which sparked the protests, at the request of one of Bulgaria’s two major trade union blocs.

Finally, the Cabinet would look into the “possibility to capture, recycling or storage” of carbon dioxide emissions of the state-owned Maritsa Iztok 2 thermal power plant.

Speaking after talks ended on October 3, Denkov said that the Cabinet was committed to implementing the agreement, provided that the solutions did not breach European Union regulations.

He said that there were “quite a lot” of calls during the talks to disregard EU rules. “As long as it is up to me, I intend to stick by them,” he said.

Asked if the agreement would put an end to road blockades by energy and mine workers, Denkov said that he could not speak in their name. He did note that some trade unions in the talks had mutually exclusive demands.

In the afternoon hours of October 4, as MPs discussed the agreement struck the previous day, the blockades on Struma Motorway near Pernik and Trakia Motorway near Stara Zagora remained in place, Bulgarian National Radio reported.

(Photo: parliament.bg)

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