28 November, 2023
The Bridge ”New Europe” between Vidin and Calafat (photo: Pixabay, CC0)

Transport means economy and geopolitics. There is no place for wars – everyone wins from the development of road connections

Eng. Simeon Evtimov

This article was published on 30 January 2019 on the site of the Bulgarian newspaper ”Sega” (Now) and is republished here with the permission of the newspaper.

Danube Bridge” 2 is dangerous, claims eng. Ivan Yakimov, quoted recently in an article by the ”Sega” newspaper. What I read there no only surprised me, but also insulted me personally, because I was honoured to work in the entity, which constructed and managed the project and conducted it for the greatest part of its existence. Is this bridge really dangerous? It is sufficiently telling that no one has paid attention so far to the worries of eng. Yakimov (who joined the entity in 2009 without formal competition for his position). In fact, the problem does not lie in technical risks or professional disputes, but in geopolitics.

Some circles in Bulgaria considered the second bridge above Danube ”dangerous” even before the start of its construction. Both then and now I believe that some politically irresponsible people, who change the national priorities every six months, can do more evil to the project than the whole Romanian resistance has done.

Belgrade used to hold the key to the water and terrestrial access of the Balkans to the rest of Europe for more than 100 years. Only when Bulgaria set forth on its road to EU membership, some successful steps for taking advantage of the geostrategic place of our country were made. Bulgaria was included in five out of the ten transport corridors, which had to guarantee the unification of the continent. Corridor 4 (Finland-Greece – note of the translator) received greater priority than corridor 10 (Serbia-Macedonia-Greece – note of the translator). The construction of the second bridge between Bulgaria and Romania was defined as a key measure.

The project didn’t have complete support in Bulgaria in any of its stages of development. It confronted constantly obstacles, which aimed at protection of the status-quo – a monopoly of transport connections, limitation of the regional transport links and isolation of Bulgaria. Back in 1999 some strange arguments were made in order to stop the ratification of the agreement with Romania on the construction of the new bridge at Vidin-Calafat (including the development/upgrade of railroads and highways) – that the opening of Yugoslavia would hinder the construction of the bridge and would undermine its social-economic effect. It was clear that the opening of Yugoslavia would have a stimulating effect, that transport flows will grow and that transport companies will seek for alternative routes, including through the new bridge at corridor N4, which is a competitor to the Serbian corridor N10.

In the beginning of the anti-Yugoslavian embargo in 1992 Sofia tried to enter in direct negotiations with Bucharest for the new bridge. Time was chosen correctly, but the effects of the lack of bridge in the Western part of our common Danubean border, were very well measured – some circles around the strong of the day could win a lot.

Two weeks after the aerial bombardment of NATO started, the lack of bridge hit painfully our transport and our economy. The disputes – about the place of the bridge and others, shouldn’t be an obstacle any more. At the price of mutual compromises Bulgaria and Romania achieved agreement for the construction of the bridge.

But later more than 10 years were lost in unnecessary quarrels on “economic efficiency”, “ecologic expediency” and “protection of national interests” with the only goal to stop or at least slow the realisation of the project.

Matteo Turro – the economic director in the European Investment Bank at the time of the signing of the credit agreement for the bridge in 2000, said that the worries that traffic will be too small and the bridge will not repay its investment, because of Yugoslavia’s opening, are groundless. He even believed that the largest the traffic through Belgrade, the better, because the very presence of the bridge will force the owners of the alternative route to take the bridge into consideration, to make their own route more attractive. That is how the end clients – the people and the business, will win.

But the resistance against the bridge continued after the start of the construction. Some opinions appeared that it will have “to move” to the east so that the places for nesting of the rare species red-headed duck, are not destroyed. After that one Bulgarian minister requested that we refuse the German co-financing of the bridge and redirect the funding to an airport in Bansko.

Luckily, due to the international funding the project had state guarantees for the purpose of the given funds, which couldn’t be transferred in accordance with momentary whims. It turned out that the red-headed duck nests in the delta of Danube, and not around Vidin and Calafat. But another year was lost.

The strategic importance of the bridge was proven by the rise of the traffic, after it entered in exploitation in 2013. The rise was more than threefold. But the problems persists. There is no investment in the improvement of the roads and railways, which lead to it, while we pretend to worry about the underdeveloped north-western region. It is even suggested that the bridge is “dangerous” and it is said this will be unveiled, when the railroad starts to overburden it.

The reconstruction of the bridge at Novi Sad started immediately after the NATO war against Yugoslavia ended, but was completed only in 2018. Some participants in its reconstruction admitted that they have struggled to complete it before “the competitor” at Vidin-Calafat, but didn’t succeed.

That is how a logic question question appears – why this stimulating competition doesn’t direct the state investment with a priority towards corridor N4. Back in 1998 a study by “Contact Marketing” showed that 77,6% from those who travel abroad would use a bridge at Vidin-Calafat.

Why did Bulgaria hurried with projects for “connectedness” towards the Turkish and the Serbian border, but failed to capitalise on the geostrategic importance of the new bridge as a regional stabilising factor and to attract investment for the development of transport connections with the Greek ports in the Chinese initiative “One belt, one road”?

Under the operative programme “Transport 2007-2013” the investment priorities of the state were others. The motorroads receive three times greater investment that the railroads. The announced investments in ”railroad infrastructure in southern direction with possibility for improvement of speed” (a declaration by the finance minister Vladislav Goranov as of the summer of 2018) are very late.

The specially-suited “Connecting Europe Facility” is not used for the modernization of the railroads towards the Kulata and Vidin, which link Bulgaria directly with Greece and Romania. When somebody speaks about investment in road connections to Nish it doesn’t have to be ignored that this is a connection between the competing corridors N4 and N10.

It is another issue why “the corridor” terminology keeps being used, but it is forgotten that within the EU the only basic transport axe, which passes the territory of the country (exactly at the bridge Vidn-Calafat) is “Orient/Eastern Mediterranean”.

The data for traffic growth after the opening of the bridge show unequivocally where the state has to invest, if it wants to follow the European policy for transfer of at least 10% of the truck transport to railroad. The bridge Vidin – Calafat is an investment not simply in northern direction, but also in the connection East-West. Apparently, it is not sufficient to invest only in the southern direction’s infrastructure, if 12 years after Bulgaria entered in the EU we still talk about integration in the European transport network.

All that was said so far shows the lack of state interest for the development of the transport market to the benefit of society. Those who win from the status-quo are only some circles, which find “Danube Bridge” 2 “dangerous”, because it hinders them from following “their” transport policy, which opposes multi-modality, ecological expediency and energy efficiency of the transport market in social interest.

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

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