Georgi Gvozdeykov, Minister of Transport and Communications: The CPC and the court suspiciously slow down the procedures for the new trains

Interview of Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov for the newspaper Telegraf, the conversation was held by Deyan Dyankov

Mr Gvozdeykov, we are meeting at a particular political moment with a vote of no confidence in the government pending and heaps of calls for resignations over Thursday night’s pogrom in Sofia. How do you work in this atmosphere?

I agree that the political moment is special, but it has been since day one of this government. It was clear to all that it would be so. If anyone was expecting a quiet mandate like some of these back in the day, they were totally mistaken. Personally, I expected exactly that - constant tension and instability. And since I have been set up for upheaval from the beginning, I find nothing strange in what is happening. I have no worries because whatever happens, life goes on. If someone thinks he is a minister forever or has come here to make some long-term career, he/she is mistaken.

Yes, but the important thing is to make sense. Does the assembly produce real results as management?

I think there are results. As slow as things are happening, I see them happening. Not at the speed that I want or that the public expects, but for me things are going in the right direction.

At what cost of compromises and concessions is everything happening?

In this environment, under the current management, the only possible way is to find the balance. Being able to talk to the ‘enemy’. To seek dialogue, understanding when it comes to the important things that concern the development of the country. I think I’ve managed to do that so far. Two things are important in politics - not to create enemies and to build bridges. The two complement each other and are key for your stay in politics to make sense and to have a tangible result for the people.

Is this dialogical tone the reason why there is almost no criticism of you from the other participants in the non-coalition outside the PP-DB, namely Boyko Borissov and Delyan Peevski?

The only thing I can say about this is that I have been open to dialogue with everyone. What I have been asked to do by MPs from all parties who have come here to solve some problems of the people - I have tried to help and assist everyone. After all, I am a minister of state and I cannot ignore those who are our opposition or our political opponents.

However, your dialogicality does not seem to be opening the door smoothly on the project to buy the new trains under the Recovery and Resilience Plan. What went wrong there?

Let me start from what has not gone wrong. The order for the 18 shunting locomotives goes smoothly today (ed. - Friday) the tenders are to be opened. The contract is divided into two items, each of which has one tender. The law allows us to extend the deadline for bids in such a case, but we will not take advantage because, on the other hand, we are pressed by the production and funding deadlines under the Recovery and Resilience Plan.

And what happens with the train orders?

There was a complaint filed by one of the potential bidders with the Commission for Protection of Competition on the 20 push-pull trains, but surprisingly this bidder withdrew their complaint very recently. On this contract we are likely to extend the deadline for submission of tenders until early December. The other order, for 7 double-deckers, was suspended because of a complaint from a potential bidder. The CPC, however, left the complaint without consideration, but the participant appealed the decision of the commission before the Supreme Administrative Court. We are waiting, but I can say that I have no concerns about this procedure. Finally, there is the order for the 35 single-deckers. Again there is a complaint to the CPC, which in this case has decided to suspend the procedure. However, we have appealed to the SAC.

However, deadlines are key because of the Recovery and Resilience Plan funding...

Yes. Specifically for the last procedure we see that both the CPC and the court are dragging their feet. After all, they are independent bodies and nobody has the right to interfere with them, but still these delays raise some doubts in our country that there is a double standard. In some procedures the CPC acts quickly, in others - not.

Why do you think this is happening?

These are procedures of very high public interest and the funding itself is not small. The timeframe in which these trains have to be produced is not short at all, and any delay runs the risk of the manufacturer not being able to deliver by 2026. 33 months should actually be available for the successful bidder to produce the trains in question, and that generally worries us. Bulgarian society is looking forward to the modernisation of rail transport and I think the CPC should pay attention to this. The Commission should also bear in mind that we are talking about huge funds that our country is about to receive from Europe.

Who benefits if the procedures fail?

What I read into the actions of these potential bidders is an effort, perhaps, to extend the deadline for submission of bids. These are huge companies with a lot of orders to the whole world and they just want to line up their production slots and have better forecasting of their employment. Therefore, they are looking to extend the process for bid preparation as well as production organization.

Let’s say that all of these big producers appeal on purely competitive grounds. But are there any hindrances and sabotages here on our territory?

One can always think that there is a political dividend. Our government has many enemies and every attack is used as a demonstration of some weakness. Certainly this could be a motive, given what we see on the political terrain - these big wars between certain circles in politics and ambitions to interfere in the governance of the country.

Ultimately, are you optimistic about the timeline?

Yes. I believe that by the end of the year the saga of appeals will be over and we will be able to proceed with the selection of producers and the signing of contracts. This project will happen, and in the best way for Bulgaria.

Who will operate these trains once they arrive sooner or later? Will it be BDZ?

We are an EU Member State and we cannot fail to comply with European legislation, which obliges us to provide this public resource, these trains that we are going to buy, to a railway operator after a competition. There is no way this can happen directly. We are obliged to announce a transparent, non-discriminatory procedure for the award of a service of general economic interest contract. This does not bother us. Since European regulations require an open procedure, we cannot prohibit any licensed operator from applying to operate future trains.

Does that mean it doesn’t matter to you who gets them?

No. We will use all the legal tools to protect the interest of the state, because these trains are actually its property. We will do everything within the law to set all those requirements that will ultimately ensure the peace of mind and comfort of those employed in the industry, their work in the future, the improvement of working conditions and payment. Bidders will have to meet these requirements. If anyone thinks managing rail transport is an easy task, it is not. This is a very serious responsibility, a very serious capacity in terms of financing and planning, and I think that BDZ as our state-owned company has all the possibilities to be an operator again.

Will the entire set of new trains be tendered or is it possible that some will go to a private carrier?

 The overall package across all lines needs to be announced.

Do I understand correctly that you will, purely politically, do everything within your legal power to make these trains available to BDZ?

Exactly. Without imposing discriminatory requirements, of course.

These questions have arisen mainly because of the accidental or not accidental issuance of the first passenger railway licence in the country to a private company. It has already announced that it is interested only in the Sofia-Burgas destination. There is a concern among many in the rail sector, however, that BDZ is beginning to be pushed out of attractive destinations and left only in the niche of purely social transport.

I do not know whether these concerns are justified, but we cannot prevent any private carrier from developing in this area. European regulations clearly state that there must be free competition in the passenger rail market. I actually find this a very good thing. Competition begets better service.

Can BDZ compete on the free market?

I think they can, and I’ve been trying to wake them up since I took office. The very thinking of the people who run BDZ should be a bit more business-oriented and a bit more in the direction of how the company can actually make a profit and not just rely on state support. The thinking of the management staff is a bit outdated - to rely on the state resource and to know that the state provides you with a subsidy and a capital transfer every year, without taking the initiative to look for ways to improve the service. Yes, we should offer a social service. That’s right. Across Europe, this is subsidised by taxpayers’ money. But nowhere is it said that you can’t also do serious business and offer a quality and expensive service besides the social one.

Recently you launched an idea to charge BGN 500 for each imported second-hand car. At what stage is it?

It is at the idea stage, because it was born quite spontaneously at a meeting I had with branch organisations and the association of municipalities. The discussion was precisely on tax instruments, transport and mobility. The topic was how to incentivise the purchase of more electric cars through local taxes and charges, which are good for urban air quality. And then I heard that 350 000 old cars are imported into the country every year. This seemed like a tool that would give me the incentive to take it to the next level. Electric vehicles are no longer so expensive and we need to look at ways to motivate people to buy them. Some countries provide financial assistance.

But this charge is more stick than carrot?

 On the contrary. The idea is to channel the fees collected from these 350 000 cars into a dedicated fund to be used specifically for financial incentives to buy electric cars. Roughly speaking, this is BGN 175 million, which would be a decent fund for this purpose.

The levy will actually be paid by the end user with the price of the car they buy. But who will be the direct payer?

The fee will be payable by the importer. If you import a car that pollutes the environment, you will pay for it.

So the importer will owe the import fee even before selling the car?

After all, it is the importer and it is the importer that we should be penalising for importing cars that are worsening the quality of the air we breathe. If we are looking for high environmental performance and modernisation of our mobility, this is the way - you pollute, you pay.

Aren’t you worried about the reaction of second-hand car importers?

I believe that the state must protect the public interest, and in this case the preservation of nature, ecology and our air are of paramount importance. If we don’t take care of what we have to leave to our heirs, we act selfishly.


He is:

Aviation engineer, rally racer, entrepreneur;

Doctoral student at the Georgi Benkovski Air School Academy in Dolna Mitropolia;

Former Secretary General of the Bulgarian Motor Sport Federation;

Former chief of the state air ambulance company;

Member of the 47th National Assembly;

Minister of Transport and Communications in the Denkov Cabinet from June 2023.