26 March, 2023
Interview with the Executive Director of the Chamber of Road Hauliers in Bulgaria on the idea of a Bulgarian-Romanian mini-Schengen, supported by the Chamber
(source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/verborrea/33375719784)

Interview with the Executive Director of the Chamber of Road Hauliers in Bulgaria on the idea of a Bulgarian-Romanian mini-Schengen, supported by the Chamber

Vladimir Mitev

The Executive Director of the Chamber of Road Hauliers in Bulgaria talks to the Friendship Bridge about the benefits that the realization of a Bulgarian-Romanian mini-Schengen would bring, the legal grounds and procedures for its introduction, and the Chamber’s relations with Bulgarian and European politicians and institutions on this issue.

On 13 December 2022, the Chamber of Road Hauliers in Bulgaria demanded the abolition of border controls between Bulgaria and Romania, after the Romanian Union of Road Carriers had requested the same a day earlier. The Secretary General of the Romanian organisation, Radu Dinescu, has already given an interview to the “Bridge of Friendship” blog on this issue.

Mr Dimitrov, your organisation has demanded the abolition of border controls between Bulgaria and Romania. What do the members of your organisation have to lose by having this control and what do they have to gain by not having it?

To be honest, we have been demanding for years that the traffic at the border between Bulgaria and Romania be eased, and the measures are not just related to entry into Schengen. The creation of a mini-Schengen is only part of the measures, which are along many lines. At the moment, an extremely large number of checks are concentrated at this border crossing. The vast majority of these controls are completely unnecessary.

You asked me about the losses of the carriers. Some of it is measurable, but some of it is not. We can safely say that a haulier’s loss per day for having his lorry and driver at the border is at least EUR 200. Some colleagues even say EUR 200 net, which is about EUR 240 gross and is a very realistic figure in this direction. We can assess this damage.

The inestimable damage is that we have some truck drivers who are working in absolutely unacceptable working conditions, who do not have the most basic hygiene and sanitation conditions at the border crossing. Waiting for vehicles on the roadway, as is happening on the Bulgarian side and on the Romanian side, creates a great prerequisite for traffic accidents, unfortunately some of them fatal. It was not long ago that this was the case in Ruse. We had the case of Lesovo with a similar queue. Whether it is Vidin, Ruse or another border crossing, where trucks queue up on the far right lane, it is absolutely unacceptable.

With regard to Schengen, where it was literally a mockery to me what happened, because they basically said: ‘You are nobody to us, whether you qualify or not. We will take whoever and whenever they want.”

The signal to Bulgaria and Romania was the admission of Croatia. I am not saying that Croatians do not meet the requirements and that they should not be admitted, but their accession to the European Union is at a later stage, as we all know. This is not the first time that Bulgaria and Romania have been stopped from joining Schengen. Here, too, another factor is now coming into play: by meeting all the requirements, by meeting the European values and by meeting the formal requirements, the Netherlands, which was always always against, is suddenly being joined by Austria, which initially supported us. Suddenly, it is no longer supporting us. What has changed, what has happened?

Have we suddenly gone from being a secure country to being insecure for them? An absolutely illogical migrant route was announced on the Austrian side: how they had passed through Bulgaria, but before that they had hardly entered through Italy, or something like that. It is just that when you are not wanted in one place, you are obviously not wanted and you look for options to solve the problem.

You know much better than I do that this idea of an open border or the abolition of the border between Bulgaria and Romania is not new. It was discussed a long time ago, perhaps more than 10 years ago. Correct me if I am wrong!

It first appeared on the internet around 2011 and was formulated by a Romanian.

It is exactly right and perhaps the time is ripe – as new fledgling members we may still have a case for not joining Schengen at the moment. Nor do I see any objective reason why we should not already be members of Schengen. In recent years, there has been a targeted attitude, not only on the part of Schengen, but also on the part of the entire European Union, specifically towards road transport, which they have expressed in the Mobility Package. These are crazy legal texts that we saw during the corona virus do not work. At the moment, a large number of countries are wondering how to implement these texts at all. But, you see, because the drivers were white slaves, we are going to make it compulsory for them to go back to their home address. Well, if that is the case, why are we putting in at the next point that it was not compulsory to collect them at their address, they could also be collected at the company’s registered office by German companies in Germany. But the Bulgarian ones you see only in Bulgaria, because these are Bulgarian drivers. And the Germans, if they have Bulgarian drivers, will collect them in their base.

We see a similar hypocrisy with regard to Schengen. You are in the European family. We are now going to open German shops and grocery stores in Bulgaria. Do you not know how quickly procedures happen there? A pack of businesses has entered both Romania and Bulgaria. We are now seeing calls to boycott these businesses, both Austrian and Dutch. We have opened up our markets the next time they have to do it, this thing of being able to give specifically for transport some more competitive conditions, to be able to cross these borders freely, suddenly the drivers could continue to be white slaves. But otherwise, when it comes to the Mobility Package and protectionist measures against carriers from Eastern Europe, you see, we are the biggest slaveholders according to them.

Well, do you have any idea who might implement this abolition of the border control? Should it be done at Bulgarian and Romanian level or at European level? What is the procedure? What are the legal grounds for this?

To be honest, the consultations that we have made, both with our lawyers, with whom we work and with the civil servants with whom we have dealings in any case with regard to transport, indicate that this agreement should be between Bulgaria and Romania. We have asked for it to take place and, because there was a doubt as to whether, purely on a European level, because we are Member States of the European Union, further authorisation from the European Commission is needed for this thing to happen. I hope to have an opinion from our lawyers on this in a few days’ time. We have already made the institutions aware of this proposal of ours, the spark for which was lit by our Romanian colleagues. I am not sure that, in the context of a caretaker government, Bulgaria can and should take this step, but in a possible regular government, I think that this will certainly be one of the first things that we will make it known.

What kind of reactions do you get from Bulgarian, from European politicians, for example MEPs who are from Bulgaria?

To be honest with regard to MEPs who are Bulgarian members of the European Parliament, we have had a meeting on 19 December 2022 with some of them. We have made them aware of our proposal. So we are waiting to hear their opinion on this topic. How can I say, I have the feeling that there is still a bit of an ironic attitude towards the idea. It is met with a smile, like something not serious enough. Although our desire with specific cases and suggestions is completely and utterly serious. When you’re not wanted in a place, obviously you’re not wanted and you’re not wanted, you just don’t go. And so you do things to alleviate your problems without being allowed into the larger community.

When the time comes that they seek us out to join, we will have the opportunity to make that decision. Now the question here is also to what extent the actions of the Romanian and Bulgarian sides will be synchronised. That is another concern of ours. In Romania, as far as I know, there is an opinion that the candidatures of Bulgaria and Romania should be separated, that is, that Romania should be voted on separately, because that would give Bucharest a better chance of joining. So, in any case, there is a very serious conversation at intergovernmental level in this direction. It is all these things that need to be clarified between Bulgaria and Romania, but this cannot happen with a government that has a two- to three-month horizon, because I do not think that the necessary steps can be taken within two or three months to do this. But right now we have to talk about this. We need to discuss this topic. The pros and cons must be discussed in the public domain, because inevitably, there are certainly pros to be had. A reasoned decision must be taken for which the public is prepared. And politicians simply have no choice but to accept it as a priority.

In your own estimation. What are the pros and cons of this idea of a mini-Schengen between Bulgaria and Romania?

On the plus side, we get almost all the plus points of the Schengen area in terms of this border, not to say absolutely all of them: we remove the heavy goods vehicles that are currently waiting for days between Bulgaria and Romania, we make the lives of Bulgarian, Romanian and all the other hauliers and drivers who drive along this destination much easier – the way it should be. The free movement of people is also no small relief. So the pros are undeniable. I cannot say that we will have all the advantages of the Schengen area, because it covers a considerable territory, not just that of Bulgaria and Romania.

As for the cons, we should point to the fact that it will perhaps take us one step further away from being accepted into Schengen if it is interpreted in this way, not only by the Austrians, by the Dutch, but also by other countries. We see this as a possible risk, but, after all, we are currently harbouring some hopes anyway, which it turns out will not materialise and we are once again being rejected from Schengen. So I think the risk is moderate and worth it.

Okay, and let us finish with that. Do Bulgaria and Romania individually have more chances for Schengen or in an intensive cooperation?

It is clear that the concern of some of these countries is the migrants in question. It is no coincidence that we have the saying ‘divide and rule’. For many years, that is how the world has been ruled, and it is probably still being ruled in certain places. So in any case, if this idea gains traction, as it is currently doing, there will be many attempts to disunite Bulgaria and Romania. That said, a decision has to be taken at government level and followed. Both countries, for me, must continue together, because by accepting one and not the other, the ‘objective’ is again being achieved in terms of hypocrisy, division, etc. We are, after all, talking about a single market, a single union. One currency for all the countries, if you will. So, in this particular case, I think that the Bulgarian and Romanian Governments should continue to work together, not only because they will have better chances in the future, but they will also have better chances in defending their positions in the future, not only for Schengen accession.

Photo: Dimitar Dimitrov (source: The Chamber of Road Hauliers in Bulgaria)

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

Subscribe to the channel of the blog “The Bridge of Friendship” in YouTube, where a number of video and audio interviews are published! The blog can also be followed in Facebook and TwitterIts Telegram channel is here.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: