A vote in the European Parliament’s transport committee on the Mobility package has prompted jubilatory celebrations among those in power in Sofia yesterday (4 June). An opposition MEP warned that the joy is premature. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and will be a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The commission responsible for transport in the European Parliament has voted in favour of the proposal by several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, to remove the transport sector from the new ‘Mobility package’ regulations for which France, Germany and other higher-wage states are pushing. The legislation is often called ‘the Macron package’. The French president has put the topic for nearly a year, including during his visit to Bulgaria one year ago. Then the official authorities in Sofia almost ignored this question.
After the vote, MEP Andrey Novakov (GERB EPP), the only Bulgarian MEPs with the right to vote in the committee, was exultant. He described the decision as “the absolute and unconditional capitulation of the ‘Macron package’ and a complete victory for the Bulgarian position.”
For Bulgarian companies, this means lower travel costs for drivers who will continue to sleep in their trucks rather than in a hotel. In addition, drivers will not be forced to return to Bulgaria every three weeks. The largest supporter and initiator of the new regulations in the transport sector is France. Major opponents are Poland and Bulgaria.
For a long time, the Bulgarian authorities ignored the issue until they encountered mass protests by Bulgarian transport companies. This provoked the ruling GERB party to toughen its position.
Hundreds of truck drivers blocked roads across Bulgaria on 17 May as European Union leaders met in Sofia for the Western Balkans summit, protesting against proposed EU rules they say would cost them their jobs and put their firms out of business.
Transport company owners described the Mobility Package as a protectionist measure designed to help rival firms in western Europe. The Bulgarian transport association said around 120,000 drivers from the country would lose their jobs under the proposed rule changes.
Novakov explained that he traveled the distance from Sofia to Brussels with a heavy TIR truck to prepare for the vote. This experience, he said, gave him “confidence and courage” that Bulgaria’s position was right.
The MEP said he now expected that the text as voted by the parliamentary committee will be approved by both the European Parliament in plenary and by and the EU Council.
Previously, Bulgarian Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski has threatened to leave the EU Council meetings if the Bulgarian position was not accepted.
On Tuesday morning (5 June) Prime Minister Boyko Borissov also rejoiced, although less exuberantly than Novakov.
“I do not agree with those who say that President Macron was defeated. Rather, with understanding how important it is, this decision was adopted. The way to ensure success is dialogue, work”, Borissov said at a special press conference at Sofia Airport upon his return from a visit to Tirana.
“A lot of efforts have been made to obtain this voting result,” Borissov added, and also reminded that the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had helped. The prime minister also explained that Bulgarian diplomacy has managed to get 8% more money for Bulgaria from the EU budget after 2020.
Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski, for his part, thanked the European deputy Andrey Novakov. “For the time being, at the level of the transport committee there is absolutely complete success of the proposals we have submitted, the vote in the European Parliament [in plenary] is forthcoming,” Moskovski said.
Bulgarian opposition MEP Peter Krumbashev (S&D) also described the vote as “the strategic breakthrough”, but urged the GERB government not to rejoice that much. He reminded that Bulgaria would still suffer losses from the Mobility Package because the regulation would affect shipping by sea and river.
“The Committee has voted that a weekly and reduced weekly rest will have to be spent in a hotel or other place provided by the employer. It is not true that they have not voted the three weeks (after which a break is obligatory). But it is said that breaks are not necessarily at home, but can be used either at home or at a place specified by the driver. That is why we have been fighting for a long time and we asked why this holiday should be used at home and why the man cannot go to watch a football match somewhere, for example, or just have another choice”, Kouroumbashev told the Bulgarian National Radio.
The S&D MEP explained that the commission had voted to make obligatory at least one unloading and loading in the country where the truck came from. This means that if the driver’s return is avoided, the truck must surely return.
“The requirement to return the truck is even stranger. The driver may be nostalgic for his family, but why would the truck also want to go back home?’, asked Kouroumbashev in his typical humoristic style.
“The message of the Western countries to us was: Cabotage remains for us, and we liberalize international transport”, the MEP said.
He also warned that the vote in the parliamentary committee was just one of the steps in the procedure.
“It is too early for fanfare. I have witnessed similar naïve overreactions before, but the match only ends with the last referee signal.
“We can be satisfied, because the result in the Transport Committee is very different from the one in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, which is a good indication. We have 3-4 votes in our favor and 3-4, which are not in our favor. Let’s see what happens in plenary. Subsequently – when the EP adopts a position, it goes on to negotiate with the Council and the Commission. Then, in the so-called a trialogue a compromise is reached between these three institutions. Only when the trialogue is over, we can say that these positions have been finally adopted. So it is too early to declare a victory over the enemy forces”, said Kouroumbashev.