Slovak road hauliers started blocking the country’s main border crossing point with Ukraine on Friday, joining Polish protests in demanding that the European Union reintroduce a permit system for Ukrainian competitors.
Polish drivers have been blocking several crossings to Ukraine since Nov. 6. That blockade has redirected some traffic through Slovakia, causing hundreds of trucks to pile up for kilometres on the approach to the border.
Truckers from Poland and Slovakia both complain that their Ukrainian peers offer cheaper prices for their services and also transport goods within the EU, rather than just between the bloc and Ukraine.
They demand the EU reinstate a system of granting a limited number of permits to Ukrainian companies to operate in the bloc and for European truckers to enter Ukraine. The permits were abolished after Russia’s invasion.
“We will block the border and let four trucks through every hour,” Slovak trucking union UNAS chief Stanislav Skala told Reuters by telephone while driving toward the Vysne Nemecke/Uzhhorod crossing earlier on Friday.
The truckers’ blockade at the sole border point for trucks entering Ukraine started at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT) as planned, Slovak news agency TASR reported, citing several UNAS members.
Despite the blockade, military supplies, humanitarian shipments, and perishable goods and animal deliveries will be able to pass, Skala said.
He said the blockade would be done in coordination with police, and truckers will have a team of several people guarding the blockade in shifts.
Ukraine’s state border service said it was informed that passenger cars and buses would not be restricted.
The Slovak blockade is set to continue open-ended, although a decision on any further steps should come after Monday’s EU transport ministers meeting in Brussels, where Polish, Slovak and Hungarian delegations were expected to raise the topic.
“The only demand is reinstating the permits,” Skala said.
“We are not interested in politics, we just have to protect our market.”
Operators also wanted enforcement of rules allowing Ukrainian companies to ship to and from the EU but not local carriage within the EU.
The Slovak Transport Ministry said after meeting the hauliers on Wednesday it would relay their demands in Brussels.
Kyiv has said it will not compromise on the question of permits for Ukrainian drivers.
Mykhailo Bno-Airiian, a trade reprensentative for Ukraine’s Federation of Employers, said the blockage of Slovakia’s crossing will leave only Hungary or Romania as options, greatly reducing trucking routes in what he called a “disaster”.
“We are afraid of (spreading protests) because it’s a risk for us,” he said.
European transport commissioner Adina Valean said on Nov. 29 that Ukraine and the EU cannot be “taken hostage” by the Polish truckers blockading the border. The situation is “unacceptable” and Brussels reserves the right to intervene in ensuring rules are respected and the law applied, she said.