Truck haulers organised today (10 January) the first large-scale protest in Brussels against changes in European regulations known as the Mobility Package, claiming that it will hurt the Bulgarian economy. Bulgarian MEPs from the different political groups were exceptionally united in backing the protest. Georgi Gotev has the story.
Protests are held, both in Sofia and in Brussels, on the same day the European Parliament’s transport committee will vote the EU’s Mobility Package, dubbed by some as the ‘Macron law’, which according to eastern EU members puts them in a disadvantaged position compared to their western peers.
Among the controversial reforms in the package is a compulsory return of drivers to their country of origin for their monthly rest. The last word on the package belongs to the European Parliament, which in July 2018 failed to reach an agreement on all the changes and sent the issue back to the committee.
It is clear however that it is not the truckers themselves, but their bosses who pay for the protests. Actually, the owners of truck companies fear that if the Mobility Package enters into force, their drivers would choose to work for Western companies.
Early on 10 January two charter flights departed from Sofia Airport for Brussels, carrying 360 protesters. They are expected to join another 100 Bulgarian truckers and supporters already in the Belgian capital. On Schuman square, some 260 Romanian protesters are expected to join their Bulgarian colleagues.
Similar protests have been held in Sofia, during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
A PR company has been put in charge with the communication, and has spread information about the protesters’ main messages: “The Mobility package kills the common market in the EU! “NO to double standards for the transport industry in the EU!”, “Two-speed Europe – reverse gear for transport!”, “The Mobility package kills the transport business in Bulgaria!”, “Will the European Parliament legalize the theft of business?”, “The Mobility package = victory of lobbying over EU values!”.
Besides the rally at Place de Luxembourg, 10 trucks have been allowed by the Belgian authorities to be parked near Cinquantenaire Square, about 500 meters from the protest site. The protest of the Bulgarian carriers is supported by all political parties, the Bulgarian government, the Bulgarian Parliament and all the Bulgarian MEPs.
The Bulgarian Minister of Transport Rossen Zhelyazkov is expected to be among the protestors at Schuman square.
Ivailo Kalfin, a former Deputy Prime Minister, tweeted saying it was quite “exotic” to send a minister joining a protest.
Among the main demands of the protesters is that the EU legislation drops the obligation that trucks should return every 4 weeks to the country of registration of the company, as well as the ban of 45 hours of rest for drivers in the lorry cabin. Another demand is that the Posted workers directive should not apply to truck drivers, as they consider that their work is different from that of all other posted workers.
The protesters also claim that the Mobility package restrictions affect most countries on the periphery of the EU, and benefit their competitors outside the EU, such as Turkey, who don’t have the obligation to follow EU rules.
In the meantime, the European Parliament’s Transport Committee rejected two of the three reports on the Mobility Package, which prompted the Bulgarian MEPs to issue a rare joint statement.
They stated that the current European Parliament “doesn’t have the potential to agree working solutions”.
“The attempt on the part of the European Commission and a group of member states to push through explicit protectionist measures only achieves division. This attempt was about to mark the end of the European Union but failed”, they dramatically hammered out.
“We, as representatives of the European Parliament, once again showed that when we are united, we can successfully defend the Bulgarian national interest. We have not allowed the Transport Committee to adopt a comprehensive solution on the Mobility Package. It is unacceptable for us, given the rejection of two of the three proposals, not to put this matter on the agenda for debate in plenary. We expect all institutions in Bulgaria to continue their efforts in support of this battle to defend our national interests”, MEPs state.
I have spoken to MEPs from East European countries who complain of “protectionist” attitudes of older member states. Some of them have told me that there is an increasing trend that they no longer align with their European political families, but rather along what they perceive as the national interest.
One of these MEPs has told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if in the next European Parliament a non-political “East European” group would emerge.
The truckers’ protest was completely eclipsed by demonstrations of Belgian youngster who ask for stronger measures by the government to stop climate change.
The Mobility Package is clearly discriminating the member states from the periphery of the EU, since returning there both drivers and lorries every month is much more expensive. The problem is important for Bulgaria, since international road transport creates a considerable contribution to the GDP as well as some ca. 100 000 jobs. Still, blocking this legislation should be done easier in the Council than in the EP. A minister, protesting outside of the European Parliament to me is exotic. And his argument that during the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council this issue was not a priority because it is difficult to us is killing me. These are the jewels from the Minister’s mouth (only in Bulgarian): https://bnt1.bnt.bg/bg/a/r-zhelyazkov-protestt-ne-e-forma-na-natisk-a-yasno-zayavyavane-na-nashata-pozitsiya