EU to tackle Baltic border issue

  • 2006-11-23
  • By TBT staff

EU TO SHORTEN THE QUEUE?: Latvia considers getting the EU involved with the border issue.

Latvia may ask the European Commission for help to solve the current situation where hundreds of trucks are stacking up at the Latvian-Russian border, which in recent days has averaged about 1,500 freight trucks per day waiting to cross into Russia. The issue is plaguing the whole region, and the EU is preparing a plan to help solve the problem with Russian customs.

On Nov. 22, Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said on the morning news program of LNT commercial television that he intended to raise the issue at talks with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on Nov. 24.

The premier said that the long lines of trucks on the border were not Latvia's fault and it was Europe's common concern that transit to Russia passes through Latvia.

"Latvia cannot solve this issue alone," said Kalvitis. The alternative would be not to let trucks into Latvia. In order to avoid such a situation, a more acceptable solution should be sought in cooperation with the European Commission.

"If European carriers find the transit route through Belarus unacceptable, ... we will have to work together with the Commission and think about how to develop and expand border crossings and improve border infrastructure," the Latvian premier said. "Latvia cannot accommodate the entire European transit flow alone," he stressed.

The Latvian government expects the European Commission to tackle this issue and to also hold talks with Belarus, who has created a transit system that is "completely unfriendly and unacceptable to carriers."

On Nov. 10, the customs authorities of Lithuania, Lithuania, and Belarus inked a protocol to try to expedite truck travel at Belorussian border points. However, until the situation shows marked improvement, truckers are still likely to try to cross directly into Russia at Latvia's border crossings.

The State Chancellery press department told the Baltic News Service that Kalvitis intends to discuss this issue with the European Commission president along with other vital EU issues at a meeting of the EU leaders planned for December.

The lines on the Latvian-Russian border started getting especially long in mid-August of this year. The long lines of trucks are a threat to traffic safety, the waiting drivers create heaps of trash on the roadside. People in nearby villages have to live with constant noise and air polluted by diesel fumes.

The situation in Estonia is also starting to rise, yet lines are not nearly as long as those in Latvia.

According to today's Russian version of Estonian Postimees daily, the lines at the Lukhama border crossing point are four kilometers long, a small amount when compared to the situation in Latvia where at Terehovo the line is 50 kilometers, and at Grebnovo, 17 kilometers.

Truckers seem to think that the problem in Estonia lies with the Russian side of the border.

Latvian trucker Aivars Dambitis told the daily that, "The long lines on the border come from the slow work on the Russian side-if on the Estonian side formulating documents takes 15 minutes, the Russians do it in nine hours."

Dambitis arrived at the Lukhama border point at 9:00 a.m., by 1:00 p.m. he had only traveled 200 meters.

The current situation has European goods slowed down on their way to the Russian market, and thus have an impact on the EU as a whole not only the truckers, and those unfortunate people that live near the border.

The Estonian Tax and Customs Board raised the issue at a meeting of customs officials in the summer.

In September, Russia's Transport Minister Igor Levitin admitted at an EU-Russia transport conference in the Finnish city of Lappeenranta that Russian customs were to blame for the congestion on the Baltic borders.

The EU seems to be paying attention to the problem.

The EU is at present consulting with member countries on how to tackle the issue. After consultations are complete, the EU plans to contact Russian authorities, EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin told the Finnish business daily Kauppalehti on Nov. 22.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen also plans to raise the issue at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

According to EU spokeswoman Udwin, border congestion will be also on the agenda of the EU-Russia summit which starts on Friday in Helsinki.