EU and Poland clash over resolving Polish truckers’ blockade of Ukraine border

The European Union and Polish government remain at odds over resolving a protest by Polish hauliers who are blocking the border with Ukraine in protest at what they say is unfair competition from their Ukrainian counterparts, who can take advantage of the loosening of EU rules after Russia’s invasion.

Yesterday, Poland’s new interior minister, while visiting the border, announced that Poland would continue to seek a return of the prewar entry permit system for Ukrainian trucks. However, on the same day, the EU’s transport commissioner rejected that idea and called for the ending of the protest.

Po spotkaniu z ministrem infrastruktury @AlvinGajadhur protestujący na granicy przepuścili więcej pojazdów na Ukrainę. „Będziemy dążyli do przywrócenia zezwoleń. Do tego stanu, który był wcześniej”.#wieszwięcej #Przewoźnicy #Zezwolenia #MinisterNaGranicy

— 🇵🇱 (@tvp_info) December 4, 2023

Since 6 November, Polish truckers have been blocking most commercial vehicles from crossing the border, resulting in long queues of drivers waiting – often for days at a time – in increasingly cold weather. Humanitarian and military aid is exempted from the blockade.

At a meeting of the EU transport council in Brussels on Monday, Poland called for the reinstatement of EU entry permits for Ukrainian hauliers. That is the main demand of the protesting drivers, who say they are being undercut by unfair competition from Ukraine.

However, the EU’s transport commission, Adina-Ioana Vălean, rejected that demand, and expressed disappointment that “such an idea is being floated at all”.

“We cannot resume discussions on joint commitments every time there are protests in our countries,” she said, quoted by Deutsche Welle. “I call on everyone to come to their senses and to unblock the border as soon as possible.”

Komisja Europejska nadal odrzuca postulaty Polski, by wrócić do systemu limitów dla ukraińskich przewoźników w UE. – To rozczarowujące, że w ogóle pojawia się taki pomysł – przekonuje komisarz Adina-Ioana Valean.

— DW Polski (@dw_polski) December 4, 2023

Last week, the commissioner told Polish radio station RMF FM that the EU could launch legal action against Poland over the border blockade.

“Let us continue the dialogue, but we reserve the right to intervene in this matter, even through an infringement procedure against those who do not respect the rules and do not comply with EU law,” she said, also accusing the current Polish government of lacking “goodwill to find a solution”.

“I support the right to protest, but Ukraine, which is at war, cannot be held hostage to them by completely blocking its external border,” she added.

The European Commission has harshly denounced the blockade at the Ukrainian border instigated by Polish truckers, calling it „absolutely unacceptable.” The Commission has also threatened legal action against the government in Warsaw. #EuropeNews

— euronews (@euronews) November 29, 2023

Poland on Monday also called for a joint EU-Ukraine transport committee to be convened. Vălean suggested that the committee would meet, but only after the blockades had been lifted, reports broadcaster RMF.

She called on the Polish government to communicate with the protesters rather than bring their demands to Brussels and expressed hope that a new ruling coalition made up of opposition groups, which is likely to take power next week, would resolve the issue.

However, while leading figures from those opposition groups have criticised the government over its response to the crisis, they have also suggested that the interests of Polish hauliers must be protected, notes broadcaster TVN.

The protest by Polish hauliers blocking the Ukrainian border intensified this week with the introduction of the round-the-clock blockade at the fourth crossing.

Poland is set to discuss truckers’ demands in Brussels next week

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) November 28, 2023

Speaking yesterday, the infrastructure minister in Poland’s outgoing government, Alvin Gajadhur, said that they would continue to demand a return to pre-war regulations, the Polish Press Agency PAP reported.

“Poland will demand that the status quo be brought back to what it was before so that Ukrainian hauliers do not take away the market unfairly from Polish freight companies,” said Gajadhur at a press conference in Hrebenne near one of the blocked border crossings, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Speaking alongside the minister, one of the protest leaders, Waldemar Jaszczur, said that, as a sign of goodwill, they were starting to allow more Ukrainian trucks through.

“We are waiting for a gesture from the other side,” he added, suggesting that this could take the form of Ukraine allowing one border crossing to function without an electronic queuing system, which, in the opinion of Polish carriers, forces them to stand in parking lots for many days while Ukrainian drivers can wait at home.

Wspieramy polskich przewoźników.@MI_GOV_PL @ITD_gov

— Alvin Gajadhur (@AlvinGajadhur) December 4, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Jakub Orzechowski / Agencja

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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