THE DOGS BARK BUT THE TRUCKS DRIVE ON
The joint declaration of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Croatia for acknowledging Kosovo's independence caused in the last ten days intensive and at the same time quite strange polemics on Bulgarian mass media. The big question that was forced into the public conscience and is still there is would Bulgarian hauliers have to avoid the roads of our western neighbour country. The apocalyptic-like scenes, drawn by most of the televisions and newspapers, depicting broken glasses, robbed cargoes, and hordes of enraged crowds on the look-out for trucks and buses with Bulgarian registration, have seriously scared our firms and made them reduce their routes through neighbouring Serbia or seek alternative ones.
TIR-trucks at the Vidin Ferryboat border checkpoint formed a more than 2-km-long queue. Drivers' fears of negative attitude in Serbia entirely redirected the traffic to Romania. The waiting was additionally lengthened due to a damaged platform. Owners of transport firms choose the route to the north although it is not in good shape. They talk among themselves that Bulgarian cargo trucks have to wait a long time at the Serbian border checkpoints, a national TV station announced on Monday (March 24).
And while it is somehow natural for the mass media to dig out news even when it is not there, rulers' behaviour is strange when instead of bringing the necessary calmness
they pour oil onto the fire
The Government expects a political reaction on the part of Serbia and undertakes all necessary and possible measures to guarantee the Bulgarian interests, including those of Bulgarian hauliers and citizens, travelling through Serbian territory, said PM Sergey Stanishev immediately after the recognition of Kosovo's independence.
Deputy Transport Minister Georgi Peterneichev and a team of experts from the ministry even were on duty at the border checkpoints in Rousse, Vidin and Oryahovo in the weekend. Well, their findings were not surprising: the necessary organisation has been set up to relieve the traffic and the ferry complexes Vidin-Kalafat and Oryahovo-Beket function normally and are ready to operate round the clock. Transport Minister Peter Mutafchiev talked with his colleague, Interior Minister Roumen Petkov, for increasing the number of Border Police teams during the NATO summit in Bucarest in the beginning of April in order to handle the traffic more quickly.
And as it usually happens, the fuss finally turned out to be much ado about nothing. There is no clustering of TIR-trucks here and I think the whole thing is being exaggerated. It's a bit more strenuous at Vidin-Kalafat, but that's normal in such situations, Dobri Radev, Executive Director of the Oryahovo port complex, commented to the BANKER weekly. The hauliers themselves had obviously overcome the initial stress which had overwhelmed them after the acknowledgement of Kosovo's independence.
are not afraid to travel through Serbia
and there have been no vandalistic acts so far. There might be some delay in the work of Serbian border officers but I think it will gradually die down. The State has no interest to chase away the transit traffic crossing its territory because it gets profits from it, said SOMAT's Trade Director Dimiter Nikolov. Alexander Chakurov, Manager of Trans Capital and Chairman of the Management Board of the National Association of Bulgarian Hauliers, including over 70 firms from the entire country, was even more adamant. The noise and tension has been created by you - the mass media. For us this is part of the business. We have been passing through Serbia and we'll continue to do that. We have already more than ten trucks which crossed the country's territory after the acknowledgement of Kosovo's independence. I've talked both with our drivers and with the customs officers at Kalotina and there are no problems for the time being, he told the BANKER.
The talk about the huge losses which hauliers would suffer if they have to change the routes also seem to be a flash in the pan. The route through Nis and Belgrade, and from there through Croatia and Slovenia, is the shortest one for the trucks and buses, driving to Northern Italy, Southern France, Spain or Portugal. But at the expense of that
customs formalities are much more
For instance, firms pay EUR55 for each haulage. A special declaration is also required, guaranteeing that the cargo which has passed transit through Serbian territory, is from a EU member country and is intended for the community's single market. Road tolls, paid for driving along the motorway from Nis to Belgrade and then to Croatia's border, must be added as well. They amount to about EUR100 for heavy-duty trucks and buses. Presently, it's cheaper for us to travel through Romania. Through Serbia we only save time, Alexander Chakurov explained.
Considering that the average expenses per carrier is EUR0.80/km and that driving through our northern neighbour lengthens the route by some 250-300 km, the final price is approximately the same. And if the destination is Northern or Central Europe it's much more convenient to travel through Romania, the more so if the hauliers are from Eastern Bulgaria. That is because they use the Danube Bridge for which they do not pay tolls any more. The choice for the others is the ferry at Vidin-Kalafat or Oryahovo-Beket. Both are priced EUR80 for each TIR-truck and another EUR3 per passenger. But there are no motorways in Romania which saves costs for them. The state of roads and the conduct of drivers who are usually met along them is another matter. Yet, the big bonus is that the route is through a EU member country.
Of course, Bulgarian carriers have
another alternative route
across the community, surrounding Serbia. They may go south to Greece and take a ferry through either Igumenitsa or Patra towards the convenient Italian ports of Bari, Brindisi or even Ancona. Of course, the problem lies mainly in the money and the time they would need to cross the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea. A ferry from Igumenitsa to Bari costs EUR320 and from Patra to Ancona - EUR500. For a great part of the Bulgarian carriers (except for the bigger ones) these are considerable amounts. It is all a matter of economic calculations. If we carry cargo from South France or Italy towards Greece, we naturally do not have to pass though Bulgaria as the route becomes longer and more expensive. It all depends on the time we have to bring the commodity to the ultimate consignee, Trans Capital Manager, Alexander Chakurov, claimed.
If we should summarize the situation that followed Bulgaria's recognition of Kosovo, it might sound like this: the dogs bark but the trucks move on through Serbia when they find it convenient. And the carriers should not fear purposeful policy on behalf of Belgrade aimed at hampering Bulgarian companies because there will definitely be retorted measures. And not just from Bulgaria. It is not accidental that Sofia recognized Kosovo's sovereignty along with Hungary and Croatia. In case a problem emerges, the three countries may react simultaneously which will put the Serbian authorities in a delicate situation considering the complicated relations with the other neighbour countries. Of course, there may be few cases of customs officials nagging at Bulgarian vehicles but they have happened in the past, too. That they were considered a norm and may now provoke hysteria is a different story.