site.btaUPDATED PM Denkov Calls on Unions, Protesting Workers for Candid, Meaningful Discussion
As a countrywide protest of miners and energy workers went into its third day on Sunday, the trade unions and the protesters turned down an invitation from Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov to meet with him at 4 p.m. and discuss the territorial just transition plans for the coal-mining regions.
The protestors, who have closed key road intersections, are demanding the resignation of Energy Minister Rumen Radev and an extraordinary Cabinet meeting, the local chapter of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) at the Maritsa East 2 TPP told BTA.
PM: Let's Sit Around a Table
"More than ever before, today we need agreement on the development of the Bulgarian energy sector over the next 20 years, concord based on solid facts and true projections rather than on political concoctions and unrealistic expectations," Denkov told a news briefing at the Council of Ministers following the failure of the talks.
The PM said that agreement requires all sides to sit around a negotiating table so that everybody's arguments could be aired and a solution suiting all could be hammered out.
"For the time being, the trade unions refuse to come. That's not a way to address the problems in the power industry. Everybody should be prepared for a candid and meaningful discussion, the kind that we propose," Denkov went on to say.
Points of Departure
The PM listed the Government's "points of departure" for this discussion. "The territorial plans do not close down coal mines and TPPs. They are intended to attract BGN 4 billion to the coal-mining regions from several EU programmes," he explained, adding that the funds are available and can transform the regions as long as Bulgaria requests them by the EU rules. "The submittal of the documents is only the beginning of negotiations with the European Commission," the PM said, specifying that the territorial plans do not commit Bulgaria to close down particular capacities generating electricity from coal.
"We submitted the territorial plans on the last possible date. They are supposed to be approved by the European Commisison and all Member States by December 31, 2023," Denkov pointed out, adding that the rest of the countries have long submitted their plans. The PM said further that the Cabinet expects the trade unions for talks so as to be able to carry on the negotiations with the European Commission, adducing arguments and raising demands prepared together with the unions.
Denkov said that, complying with the protesters' demand, 2026 has been deleted from the territorial plan as a target date for the closure of the Bobov Dol TPP. "No dates are set for the closure of particular coal-fired plants," he asserted, making it clear that the operation of the plants will be ensured until 2038 so as to guarantee national energy security. He added that even after that date the plants will continue to operate for another five to ten years, reclaiming their sites and transforming.
The Council of Ministers prioritizes soliciting new investors for the development of new industries and the creation of jobs. "Within just four weeks, the Government managed to attract the interest of investors who are already prepared to invest BGN 3.5 billion-plus in aggregate in the launch of new industries and the creation of over 4,300 jobs," the PM said.
"If we have failed to submit the plans by September 30 or if we withdraw them now, as the protesters demand, the discussion would become pointless. We would forfeit the funds and from then on there will be nothing to talk about," Denkov said, asked by reporters whether the plans can be withdrawn and modified as the protesters insist. In his words, "if Bulgaria lets the money slip away, this will be a crime against the regions, against their residents and against all our children." The PM argued that the Government is working for the development of the regions while the protesters practically work against themselves.
Attempts to Politicize Protests
"It is outrageous that protests of the Marita East coal mines are being organized by a top-of-the list candidate for the Stara Zagora Municipal Council. Another organizer is a prominent activist of a political party. Irresponsible political actions disguised as trade-union initiatives will not help the people, they will only boost politicians' ambitions for local government," Denkov commented.
Asked to be more specific about the parties that project a political presence at the protests, the PM said: "Banners of Vazrazhdane are obviously there, and some of the Vazrazhdane MPs are present there, too." He added that The Left Coalition is taking part, too. "There are some other, too, but these two can very easily be tracked down and proved," Denkov pointed out.
Earlier on Sunday, talking to political leaders, Prime Minister Denkov urged parties not to abuse the Green Transition-related fears of energy workers and miners in their October 29 local elections campaign. The PM opposed the spread of misinformation, the making of unfeasible promises, and the deliberate escalation of tensions, the Government Information Service reported.
If the Mountain Won't Come to Muhammad
Asked whether he is ready to go and talk to the protesters on site, the PM said that their demands keep changing. "Until yesterday, they wanted a representative of the Council of Ministers to go there. Naturally, the Minister of Energy should be the one to go. He is aware of the situation in the greatest details, he presented these details, and then other demands followed," Denkov said, adding that he does not have the feeling that the other side is willing to sit at the negotiating table.
"Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov is welcome to come to the protest and present his proposals," Podkrepa Confederation of Labour President Dimitar Manolov said, addressing protesting miners and energy workers who block the Trakia Motorway in the Stara Zagora Region on Sunday morning. "My colleagues want this, and I, too, think this is a better option," Manolov commented.
"If someone goes to the meeting [with Denkov in Sofia] today, this would be a ritual suicide," the trade union leader warned.
In his words, the negotiations in Sofia are apparently over. "None of us knows whether they have sent anything to Brussels. If they have, what, and whether this is not some sort of political theatre in which we are cast as part of the stage props," Manolov said.
Earlier on Sunday, CITUB said on its website that the Confederation's President Plamen Dimitrov and the miners and energy federations affiliated to it reject Denkov's invitation to negotiations in the afternoon because the protesting workers have clearly turned down the idea.
"The escalation of tensions among miners and coal-fired power plant workers in recent days is proof that the responsible institutions have failed to take the necessary actions in due time to mitigate the social and economic consequences of the transition to a low-carbon economy," CITUB said in its position. They argued that, in recent years, they have concentrated their efforts to pursue dialogue with the government and the parliamentary parties so as to identify the best solutions for workers in the coal-mining regions and the socio-economic effects for the country at large. "We are convinced that this is the way, given that transparent and prompt action is taken and workers' problems and grievances are not ignored," the Confederation said.