By Biljana Lajmanovska
The on-and-off blockade of the Greece-Macedonia border by Greeks dissatisfied with the political-economic situation in their country is causing significant losses for Macedonian entrepreneurs.
Last month, the Greek customs officers went on strike three times, causing a complete stop of cargo traffic. Nearly 80% of the trucks lining up on both sides of the border bear Macedonian registration plates.
Macedonian transport companies estimate their losses at close to 2.5m euros in the last quarter. Virtually all companies are forced to factor in such risks and postpone orders in advance at news of border closings.
“We have been practically facing a silent strike the entire summer. The Greeks simply do not want to work and let only one line for trucks, although the number of trucks coming from Macedonia is huge,” Independent Unions and Transporters Association representative Biljana Muratovska told SETimes.
She explained that even when the Greeks are not striking, the wait time is between 12 and 14 hours, resulting in truck lines tens of kilometers long.
But it is the Macedonian industrial giants — MitalSteel, Makstil, Feni, Usje and others — that suffer the greatest losses, because their production is tied to imports of materials transported through Greece.
Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Peshevski cautioned that Macedonia will issue a protest note to Greece because of the damages inflicted on its companies.
Meanwhile, foreign affairs ministry officials say their diplomats in Greece spend considerable time and resources defending Macedonian business interests.
“As much as 90% of the Macedonian consular office’s work concerns solving problems that our businessmen face at the Greek border and on Greek territory,” ministry spokesperson Borche Stamov told SETimes.
But unlike the politically tense relations stemming from the differences over Macedonia’s name, the two countries’ economies are bound to one another and must co-operate, Stamov added.
Some transporters say they prefer a path of least resistance, given that Thessaloniki is the closest and cheapest port.
“Our trade depends on the Thessaloniki port, so we have not taken any measures. Besides, the Greeks have a tendency to protest and we are used to their behaviour,” Fershped Operations Director Zoran Arnaudov told SETimes.
“The … Greek border disruptions do not bring good to anyone, Greeks included,” Business Confederation of Macedonia (BKM) President in Bitola, Jove Brglevski, told SETimes.
Motivated by the Greek crisis, the tendency for tens of thousands of Greek firms is to co-operate more with their Macedonian counterparts, Brglevski said. “These blockades and delays at the border crossings are a poor reflection of that tendency.”
Some Macedonian firms however, demand that the government seek mechanisms for redress or seek alternative trade routes.
“[But seeking] alternative ports means additional expenses. The infrastructure leading to them is poor, and their entrance and the ability to accommodate bigger ships is not good as well. This additionally complicates the situation for Macedonian companies,” Macedonian Chamber of Commerce President Branko Azeski told SETimes.