Situation Tense at the Polish Border Blockade

Trucks heading to Poland Photo: peterolthof/flickr.com

Since Polish truckers blocked the routes on November 6, many lorries have been blocked at the Polish-Ukrainian border. Poles become enraged that Ukrainians are undercutting them in industries such as food and freight. One the of organisers of the blockade is a pro-Russian Polish politician, who it seems likes to ‘fish in troubled waters’. Meanwhile the EU harshly criticized Warsaw, blaming it for the situation.

The first thing Ukrainians see is an immense line of trucks waiting to pass the border checkpoints.

There are currently more than 3 000 stalled trucks at four border crossings – POLITICO reported. Waiting times are up to three-week and at least one driver already has lost his life during the blockade.

Polish truckers say that the current abolition of the mutual entry permit system has put them in a position where they cannot compete with Ukrainian companies, which have lower operating costs and do not have to comply with EU climate regulations.

From the Ukrainian perspective the whole situation is in stark contrast to las year when the Ukrainian refuges arrived in Poland. They were greeted by volunteer groups with warm food, clothes, offers of rooms, and buses that took them for free to various cities throughout the country.

“Drivers are forced to wait in an open field with no proper food supplies and no proper restrooms,” Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Serhiy Derkach told POLITICO.  The government is getting ready to evacuate hundreds of drivers who are trapped, he continued.

The border blockade is a serious crisis for Kyiv’s relations with Europe and a bitter taste of the difficulties that lie ahead when Ukraine, with its sizable farming sector and inexpensive but educated labor force, is integrated into the EU common market.

In a time of war, cross-border trade flows are essential to keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat, but Polish truckers view Ukrainian drivers as low-cost competitors who are undercutting their company. Polish farmers have joined them, infuriated that their domestic grain prices are collapsing due to grain imports from Ukraine.

The European Commission harshly criticized Warsaw for its “complete lack of involvement” in resolving the crisis. Transport Commissioner Adina Valean stated: “While I support the right of people to protest, the entire EU — not to mention Ukraine, a country currently at war — cannot be taken hostage by blocking our external borders.”

Andrzej Adamczyk, the Polish minister of infrastructure, appealed to his counterpart in Ukraine on Monday, urging Kyiv to accede to the demands of the truckers. The Polish drivers want the EU to reverse the advantageous treatment it gave Ukrainian haulers following the start of the war, which allowed them to transport loads from Ukraine to any location in the bloc with nearly no red tape. This also applies to EU businesses transporting goods to Ukraine. However, Adamczyk’s meanwhile replaced a new minister with the formation of a new – likely temporary – government. On 4 December in Brussels, the matter is likely to be discussed by the EU Transport Council.

Political Swindler?

The protest is intended to be carried out until February 1, 2024. The truckers have almost blocked other countries as no border-crossing point is ready to replace the biggest transportation hub, Poland. The protest, organized by “The Committee to Protect Transporters and Transport Employers,” was first publicly mentioned in September this year.

Meanwhile, one of the organizer of the protest is transport company owner Rafał Mekler, who, coincidentally, is also the head of the Lublin branch of the Confederation, a Polish far-right party with radically anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and ties to Russia.

His party is the most sceptical of Poland’s parties regarding the alliance with Kyiv, and his Facebook page is filled with criticism of Ukraine. The Confederation who has played a significant role in planning the border demonstrations.

“Ukrainians used to carry out 160 000 trucking operations before the war. This year to date it’s been nearly 1 million” – Mekler told Politico. “We are not fighting Ukraine; rather, we are fighting for our transport business” – he added.

Volodymyr Balin, Ukrainian vice president of the Association of International Motor Carriers, stated that the protests have cost the country’s economy more than €400 million – said at a briefing.

Border Regulations

Following Russia’s invasion last year, which prevented the nation from easily accessing its Black Sea ports, the significance of Ukraine’s border with Poland increased.

At first, Poland supported Ukraine’s prompt admittance to the EU, welcomed millions of refugees, and set the example for arming that country. In defiance of EU-Ukraine trade agreements and the EU single market’s regulations, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia closed their markets to grain imports from Ukraine.

It’s the turn of the truck drivers from Poland now. Similar protests are being threatened by truckers from Slovakia and Hungary.

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