Bulgarian truckers rally, seeking fuel tax rebate

SOFIA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Bulgarian truck drivers protested across the country yesterday to press for fuel tax rebates and government help over rising prices. The truckers’ association said excise duties and value-added tax contributed to surging global oil prices and made the Balkan country’s fuels too expensive. It demanded excise duty rebates. Transport Minister Petar Mutafchiev urged the European Union to find a solution to the problem, which has triggered widespread protests across the continent. «Apparently, we need to find a joint solution in the EU,» Mutafchiev told reporters. «There is a transport problem, not only in Bulgaria, it’s a European problem.» More than 150 truck drivers and dozens of bus drivers from across Bulgaria converged in a convoy on the outskirts of the capital Sofia, saying high fuel prices meant they were operating at a loss. Similar protests took place in the Black Sea port city of Varna, the Danube port city of Russe and several other towns. Fuel excise duties in Bulgaria, the poorest EU nation that joined the bloc last year, are still lower than those in the rest of the EU. This means Sofia could hardly justify a reduction in the duties, Mutafchiev said. The truckers’ association told a news conference they wanted Bulgaria’s anti-trust commission to launch a probe into a possible fuel price cartel. They also demanded the government cut the share of gray businesses in the sector. The truckers said they would continue with the protests until their demands were met. Last week, Economy and Energy Minister Petar Dimitrov said Brussels should reconsider its fuel policy and lower excise duties to avert inflation and economic slowdown. Bulgaria is a net oil and gas importer. Economist say high fuel prices will likely contribute to already double-digit inflation in the Balkan country, which was pushed up by last year’s drought and high food prices.