Andrey Novakov: There is no greater challenge to the EU than the pandemic

It is too early to tell whether the fight over the Mobility Package has been won or lost

The fight over the Mobility Package is a very long one and it is too early to tell whether it has been won or lost. When it is all said and done, it will most likely be neither of those things because we are talking about a compromise. What we need to do is get as good law provisions as possible. It is clear that the industry is going to undergo reforms. So we can safely say that this is among the bad periods we have had in this fight, but it is not the last, the MEP said in an interview to Monitor.

Mr Novakov, the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism approved at second reading the Mobility Package, rejecting our amendments. Did you anticipate such an outcome and is the fight lost beyond all hope?

In this particular case we cannot afford to paint an all-black or all-white picture. We are talking about a very long fight that we have been fighting and it is too early to tell whether it has been won or lost. When it is all said and done, it will most likely be neither of those things because we are talking about a compromise. What we need to do is get as good law provisions as possible. It is clear that the industry is going to undergo reforms. So we can safely say that this is among the bad periods we have had in this fight, but it is not the last. The legislative texts still have to be voted on the parliamentary floor. Of course, I do not expect miracles, but we are working so that the EP has a bit more balanced position on this package. We are also aware that there will probably be a lawsuit before the Court of Justice of the European Union that we are going to file together with other states. The other important thing I would like to highlight is that the European Commission (EC) came out and said that the latest version of the Mobility Package differs from the one it originally intended. The EC never wanted for trucks to return to their companies' states of establishment or for the drivers to return every eight weeks. And so, if everything stays as it is, the EC has already said that it will negate the Mobility Package with another legislative proposal. This is where my hope lies and this is where all our resources are focused in the hopes that they might tip the scales in our favour.

The vote on the parliamentary floor is scheduled for 8 July. Will you be able to find allies to support the package in such a short amount of time?

Interestingly enough, the issue was introduced for discussion during a period in which many of our fellow MEPs were not physically present in the parliament and voting was done remotely. That has hurt us a lot and altered the campaign significantly. Until now, people were there, on the ground, which allowed us to seek allies. The current situation changes things, but I am certain that we have several key advantages. One of them is that we no longer have to deal with the problem of UK lawmakers consistently voting against us, as they are no longer part of the EP. I would also like to see the position of the Greens, who support a version of the package that features return of trucks rule. But these are just hypotheses. The most unfair thing was that the package was introduced for discussion during a period in which the EP started operating in a significantly modified way.

Will the vote in July be held remotely again?

I will likely be on the parliamentary floor. A number of other colleagues intend to vote there as well, but there are some who plan to return as late as September.

Minister Zhelyazkov said that Bulgaria is preparing a lawsuit against the Mobility Package to be filed with the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. How can this work in our favour?

The case in Luxembourg is an element of the overall fight, which carries not a small chance that the final version of the Mobility Package could be more acceptable to Bulgaria. Any piece of legislation that comes from Brussels should be proportionate. It should be equally applicable in all Member States and for all EU citizens. The part of the Mobility Package that stipulates that trucks have to return to their companies' countries of establishment, however, is not a proportionate measure. Its impact varies between countries. It is clear that the road haulage market is largely concentrated in Central Europe. Many transport operators carry out deliveries from Germany, Italy, France and companies based in Austria, for example. At the same time, they operate in Germany and so will be forced to travel 300-400km to return their trucks to their countries of establishment. For Bulgarian transport operators, however, that distance is 2,500km. And so European legislation is poised to make certain transport operators competitive based purely on geographic factors. This is unacceptable.

The pandemic forced all of us to work in unprecedented conditions. For the first time, MEPs had to vote remotely. Will the EU economy weather the storm and how much will we be able to take advantage of the recovery fund?

We are yet to see what the final regulation will look like as well as the funding that will be made available to different Member States. Over the past 10 or so years, the Bulgarian administration has shown that it has gained experience in working with European funding, and I am sure that any grants that are approved will be maximised in the efforts to restore the economy. This is money allocated in order for the economy to overcome the damages caused by the coronavirus as quickly as possible. This is why I believe that our country is well-prepared to manage any amount of funding from the recovery fund. I have no doubt that Bulgaria will be among the nations who will take the utmost advantage of this assistance and our economy will recover soon.

What damages can we expect? Do you have any concerns?

According to the EC, Bulgaria will see its economy shrink by a margin less than the EU average, which is encouraging. This largely hinges on whether we see a second wave of Covid-19 or not. In the event of one, the damages to the economy will be much greater. This is why I am confident that the recovery plan we agree, whatever its final size, has to come into effect in the autumn. This will allow the economy some respite. We are projecting relief capacity to be at €750bn. The money will be felt throughout the EU and I am certain that the economy will recover from the damages much faster.

It was recently stated that the county may enter the so-called waiting room of the Eurozone by the end of the year. How realistic is that and should we be in a hurry in that regard?

I do not see a risk in entering the waiting room. We are talking about parallel tracks that Bulgaria is running on - Eurozone membership and operating with EU funding. There is no alternative to the Eurozone membership It is a strategic goal of ours. You see the efforts that are being made to ensure that Bulgaria meets the requirements and becomes a member as soon as possible.

What will be the EU's biggest challenge? Some time ago, we were discussing terrorism, then it was the migrant crisis followed by Brexit, and now the topic of conversation is the pandemic. What will be our biggest challenge?

There can hardly be a bigger challenge than the pandemic. The immediate danger that we must tackle is the crisis that has morphed from one related to health into an economic one. This will be the biggest challenge that the EU has ever faced. Citizens expect action in that regard. I hope that everything else takes a backseat to that issue.

You are very active on the matter of the Green Deal. Should Bulgaria be a part of this transition and at what cost?

The Green Deal is a priority for the German Presidency of the Council of the EU, which is starting in just a few weeks. I realise that the funding that is being allotted speaks to the implementation of this deal being factored in. It is clear that this is a reform process in the works, and Bulgaria should adapt to those realities. But this should not be done at the cost of lost jobs. Assuming realistic parameters and secured funding, this is something we should accept. There is nothing wrong with making environmental protection a priority.

How should companies be incentivised in that regard?

When the EU starts incentivising through funding, the Bulgarian companies will join in of their own volition. If the EU provides funding for an eco-friendly piece of equipment or energy-efficient machinery, benefits can be found on multiple levels. On the one hand, you protect the environment, and on the other, your bills are going down. I believe that the moment that the Green Deal becomes a reality and has a clear financial model, its contribution will be much easier to explain.

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Andrey Novakov is a Bulgarian MEP from the Group of EPP/GERB. Lawyer by education, Novakov became the youngest member of the European Parliament (EP) upon taking up his duties. In the EP, he was a rapporteur on files related to the review of the multi-annual financial framework and the assessment of the Juncker Plan, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the EU youth programme Erasmus+, etc. He was featured in the Politics category of the Forbes 30 under 30 list of the most successful young people. Novakov served two terms as vice-chairman of the European Democrat Students. Last April he was elected Chief Negotiator for the basic regulation for the European Structural and Investment Funds after 2020.

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