Bulgaria’s miners, energy workers plan national protest
Bulgaria’s miners and energy sector workers are preparing to go on strike on October 12, a day before the debate on a no-confidence vote against the government of Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, accused by the opposition of failing to defend the national interest in energy.
Although there is no direct proof, many see the protests as a tool used by political parties to gain more support ahead of the October 29 local elections and probably to bring down the reformist government of Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and lower the support for Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria whose member he is.
Miners and energy sector workers have been blocking key roads in Bulgaria for eleven days in a row and some of them refuse to lift the blockades despite signing an agreement with the government that was also backed by the parliament.
Meanwhile, state broadcaster BNT revealed that nearly one quarter of the protest’s leaders are candidates for municipal councillors in the October 29 local elections.
On October 9, protesters who are blocking the key Trakia motorway near the city of Stara Zagora held an improvised session and decided they would seek support for a national protest on October 12. They will also seek support to start a strike, public broadcaster BNR reported.
The agreement, signed by representatives of trade unions and the government, obliges the state not to shut down any coal mine or coal-fired power plant before 2038 if they are still economically viable. Their possible closure would be determined by market conditions instead. By the end of 2038, Bulgaria has pledged to close the coal industry under its recovery and resilience plan.
Protesters demand from the government to withdraw regional plans submitted to the European Commission by the government at the end of September. These plans envisage the smooth transition of regions where coal industry is located towards green energy production. The state has pledged to secure work for those employed in the coal industry or to provide solid compensations to those who choose to quit the sector.
The government says the plans cannot be withdrawn as this would cost the state billions that will not be provided under the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Bulgaria is expected to receive BGN3.5bn (€1.8bn) for the green transition of the coal regions.
To start an effective strike, at least 3,400 miners and at least 50% of workers of coal-fired power plants need to agree to go on strike.
While it is unclear how many miners and energy sector workers would back a strike, on October 13 the parliament will debate the no-confidence motion against Denkov’s government filed by three opposition formations – the far-right pro-Russian Vazrazhdane, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and There Are Such People (ITN). They claim the government has betrayed the national interests by submitting the regional plans for the coal industry.
The three formations have 121 out of 240 MPs and the motion seems doomed to fail. However, the motion, along with the protests, might hit the support for Change Continues-Democratic Bulgaria – one of the coalitions supporting the government – ahead of the local elections.
A survey by BNT showed that one quarter of the protest leaders are candidates for municipal councils for Vazrazhdane, the BSP, ITN, the ABV-Left pro-Russian coalition and Gerb, one of the parties behind the current government. However, despite backing Denkov’s cabinet, Gerb is running on its own in the local elections and is the main rival to CC-DB.
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