Disruption at Poland-Ukraine border could last until new year, protesting truckers say
Polish transport companies that began a blockade of three major border crossings with Ukraine on November 6 say the protest could last until January if their demands are not met.
The protesters say the EU’s liberalised rules for Ukrainian transport companies are putting Polish hauliers out of business, as Ukrainians are offering cabotage and cross-trade services at much lower prices because they do not have to meet costly EU work standards and pay drivers a fraction of EU's wages.
Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government said in reaction to the protest – which has all but stopped commercial truck traffic between Poland and Ukraine now – that changing the rules is up to Brussels, not individual member states.
The PiS government is, however, on the way out after losing a majority in the election last month and has largely dropped its combative rhetoric on EU affairs that it had used extensively during the campaign.
The new centre-left government has not yet taken over but it is becoming clear that the desperate hauliers will present it with a thorny issue to tackle right in the very first weeks after taking over power.
“Transport is 7% of Polish GDP, agriculture is, what, just four, and yet they do nothing?” a protesting owner of a truck transport company said, as bne IntelliNews reached him by phone.
The man referred to the lengths the Polish government went to block imports of Ukrainian grain, a move which was against EU trade rules and which member states have no competence over – just like in the case of regulating rules of Ukrainian companies running trucking services in Poland and elsewhere across the bloc.
The blockade could last until January, the protesting truckers told Polish media. They are only letting one truck go through every hour in each direction at the crossings except for the transport of humanitarian aid, live animals and perishable goods.
Ukrainian ambassador to Poland Vasyl Zvarych said in a statement on social media that the protest is a “painful blow to the back of Ukraine, which suffers from Russian aggression.”
The new Polish government is going to find itself in a precarious position over trying to defuse the anger of truckers at the border.
“By acting strongly against Ukraine, the [new] government will go against its own narrative [from the election campaign], weaken Poland's international position, and harm Poland’s broader economic interests,” the Rzeczpospolita newspaper wrote in a comment.
“Poland was supposed to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Ukraine’s reconstruction,” the newspaper added.
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