By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
The lorry blockade at the Bulgarian-Turkish border has been cleared but the dispute that led to it has not.
An agreement to bring forward talks between representatives of Sofia and Ankara led to the lifting of the blockade on February 13, and by the morning of February 14, passage through the Kapitan Andreevo and Lesovo border checkpoints was said by Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry to be “trouble-free”.
But is the forthcoming talks that will be tough, given that underlying the dispute about transit permits is a competition for business between Bulgarian and Turkish road haulier companies.
A meeting on February 13 between industry organisations representing Turkish and Bulgarian road carriers produced an agreement to hold joint meetings twice a year. This emerged from the meeting in Istanbul between the National Association of the Bulgarian Road Carriers and the Turkish Automobile Association.
February 17 is to see the meeting between representatives of the two countries’ transport ministries, that initially was scheduled to be held on February 21.
Briefing the parliamentary committee on transport on February 13, Bulgarian Transport Minister Daniel Papazov said that Bulgaria was well aware that the forthcoming negotiations would be difficult.
He said that Bulgaria would insist on the liberalisation of the system of truck transit permits.
Over the past 10 years, Bulgaria had made too many compromises towards Turkey and the transport minister would defend Bulgaria’s interests, Papazov told the committee.
Bulgaria would not give in to the request the increase the number of truck transit permits that it issues to third countries, meaning countries that are not members of the European Union.
Papazov said that Sofia would insist that Bulgarian permits were entered into the Turkish electronic system “to end the practice of our carriers constantly being fined 3000 euro”. Bulgaria also wanted to request a review of the requirements of the Turkish transport documents, he said.
“The negotiations will be very heavy and the claims on both sides will be quite substantial. The concessions have always been more on our side, as always from the Turkish side, we have had promises that are then not carried out,” Papazov told the committee.
According to a report by Bulgarian National Television, MPs from all four political parties represented in the 42nd National Assembly pledged to help the government and Bulgarian carriers if necessary.
Disputes between Bulgarian and Turkish road hauliers have repeatedly led to border protests and blockades in recent years.