Can you imagine such a tempting offer: A shopping excursion to Istanbul, departing from North Macedonia by bus, spending three nights in a four-star hotel at the Bosphorus and back, total cost of € 79? With an option for a five-star hotel, bringing it to € 85?
This is exactly the offer made by the passengers of the bus of the Macedonian company Besa Trans Shkup which crashed and burned in Bulgaria. The official death toll is 44, including 12 children and adolescents, with only seven survivors, who escaped breaking a rear window.
The motto of the company is “Bus travel to European standards”.
European standards ?
As the first results of the survey showed, the coach did not have a license for the international transport of passengers and if it was allowed to cross the borders, it was most certainly thanks to (clin d ‘ eye) bakshish to border officials.
This is not unusual in this part of the world, although Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007.
The investigation is ongoing, so we will not prejudge the possible cause of the accident. Instead, we’ll talk about the context.
These Balkan sightseeing tours usually take the form of long overnight bus transfers. The objective is to save on accommodation: two hotel nights less.
But the roads in the Balkans are notoriously dangerous. On April 4, 2004, a Bulgarian bus returning from a night trip to Croatia fell into the Serbian Lim river: twelve Bulgarian children died. Since then, Bulgaria has banned the transport of children by bus at night.
But that didn’t stop 12 Macedonian children from dying near Sofia.
As for the bus fire, there were reports of an explosion and it caught fire within seconds. Ongoing forensic investigations will hopefully shed light on the matter.
In the meantime, it’s an open secret that many bus drivers fill 20-liter plastic cans of fuel at gas stations in Turkey because fuel is cheaper there. Even the respective petrol stations have been identified.
Transporting fuel in plastic cans is prohibited, but who cares? To avoid checks, the bus drivers would have loaded cans into the spare wheel compartment and the wheel moved to the luggage compartment. Everyone knows the pattern but with a little bakshish at the border, it works.
Likewise, Greeks who are passionate about gambling fill their tanks and cans in Bulgaria, where fuel is cheaper. They believe it cuts their spending at casinos across the border.
Smuggling is rampant in travel agencies in the Balkans.
A source known to this author incidentally opened the door to the toilet on a Bulgarian coach bound for Brussels. The whole toilet compartment was filled with heaps of beer, obviously to be delivered to one of the Bulgarian shops in Brussels. Lots of passengers probably noticed it but no one said a word. It is widely known and widely assumed.
Sometimes bus companies adhere to the rule of having two drivers on international trips, but sometimes the second driver is just on paper.
The controls are apparently not a problem, as the bakshish is still working. Officially, a company like Besa Trans Shkup only has four coaches (the one that burned down near Sofia is not on its official list). To meet demand, coaches have to make non-stop round trips. That’s a lot of driving, especially for a single driver.
And then there are the roads …
Even if a road is newly built (like the one where the Besa Trans coach burned down), all over the Balkans there are incredible gaps.
There are usually no horizontal reflective marks, only traces of old marks, which are misleading.
In bad weather even experienced drivers get lost. Road signs are missing or invisible, because local contractors cover them with their advertising or because someone has stolen them. In the case of the road where the coach burned, this is what the studs on the reflector look like.
The Balkans are indeed a place apart, in terms of geography and mentality: Black Friday is every day.
This Brief may come as a shock to non-Balkan readers, but in the region it can easily be used as an advertisement. An inexpensive excursion to Istanbul is tempting. Hell, a bus burned down, hundreds arrived at their destination. At this price, let’s reserve a place.
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A new draft EU directive, due for publication on 14 December, introduces minimum energy performance standards for existing buildings undergoing major renovations as part of a renewed effort to achieve high standards. zero-emission buildings by 2050. About three-quarters of buildings in Europe are currently energy inefficient, and buildings in the EU are responsible for around 40% of the block’s energy consumption and 36% of its emissions. greenhouse gas.
And a new study says electric heat pumps are the best and most economical solution for room heating, and are “the most affordable option for consumers who want to decarbonize their heating.” But it comes at a high price, with production, purchasing and installation costs ranging from € 3,000 to € 6,000 in Poland and € 2,500 to € 5,000 in the Czech Republic.
The new German government yesterday released its coalition agreement, including some historic climate plans. EURACTIV has you covered with a full German roundup:
First, the leaders agreed to bring forward the country’s exit from coal, “ideally” to 2030 instead of 2038, and to rapidly accelerate the deployment of renewable energies. The coalition aims to deliver on the party’s key climate policy pledge to embark on an emission reduction path consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 ° C global warming limit.
The aforementioned exit from coal comes with an incentive to 80% renewable energy capacity by 2030, but this plan is not without its drawbacks. The transition will rely heavily on gas, with a planned 50% increase in gas-fired electricity generation to replace coal-fired and nuclear power plants that are being shut down.
Germany also aims to have at least 15 million electric cars on the road by 2030, up from its previous target of 14 million. The Greens had previously called to ban the production of fossil-fueled cars by 2030 and to reserve the use of electric fuels for industry, transport, ships and planes, but neither of the other two groups was at the origin of such a ban.
And Germany will continue to be part of the NATO nuclear sharing deal under the new government, a move that will prevent a breakdown in the Western military alliance amid mounting tensions with Russia. Germany does not have nuclear weapons, but harbors US nuclear bombs that German Tornado fighter jets are supposed to carry to target during conflict.
In other news, the European Commission has proposed that the COVID-19 recall be required for travel to other countries in the bloc next summer, if travelers want to avoid testing and quarantines. The proposal also indicates acceptance of all vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, which would allow non-essential travel from outside the block for people vaccinated with Chinese and Indian vaccines.
And French authorities have announced that France will not enter lockdown or curfew, but will instead speed up its vaccination campaign to slow the increase in COVID-19 cases amid Europe’s fourth wave. The country’s national health authority has reduced the recommended recall timeframe from six months to five months, and the vaccine will be available to French citizens aged 18 and over.
The Commission has also launched a proposal to regulate political advertising, introducing transparency obligations for traders and strict limits on the use of sensitive personal information. The proposal aims to protect the electoral process and democratic debate from manipulation and interference, and will ideally be in place by spring 2023, a year before the next European Parliament elections.
The French government informed the Commission last week of a new bill to ensure that electronic devices such as computers, phones, game consoles and tablets sold in the country have parental controls preinstalled. . The authors of the bill are “very confident” that Brussels would not oppose the bill.
Pay attention to…
- European and Asian leaders meet virtually at the annual Asia-Europe meeting.
- Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson speaks at the ENTSO-E 2021 Net Zero conference.
- Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean meets officials in Moldova to discuss EU support for transport infrastructure.
The views are those of the author.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]