Bulgaria has always been among the leaders in the number of people killed on the roads. This problem has turned into a demographic one, in addition to a financial one. Therefore, the solution is one: the EU will have to periodically enforce best road safety practices. A common European road policy runs through common European road traffic legislation and also through standardised indicators. In future, a European traffic police will also be introduced, which will be a natural development of European integration. This will complete the circle within the EU: common rules, common practices, common controls.
Since 1951, since we have statistics, until 2006, 52 276 people died on the roads in Bulgaria (as many as the population of Asenovgrad or Kardzhali). By comparison, this is 2,000 times more than our casualties – 26 people – given in all the international military missions we have participated in during this period. The number of wounded on the roads is 318,388 (comparable to the population of Varna). The magnitude of this statistic turns the problem into a demographic one.
Road accidents in the EU have another serious dimension: material and financial. According to the World Bank, traffic accidents cost Bulgaria about BGN 1 billion a year, i.e. about 2% of our GDP. For the EU as a whole, the financial damage caused by traffic accidents is around EUR 340 billion a year. This money could have many excellent uses – to improve road infrastructure, for healthcare, etc. We can even use it to combat world hunger, which is only EUR 20 billion a year, according to the Director-General of the FAO.
There is a third global dimension to road traffic accidents. They have a very negative impact (and in many different ways) on the quality of our lives, on global climate change, on the sustainability of human development. This is a problem that the EU is beginning to see as a global challenge.
Therefore, the solution is one: the EU will have to periodically enforce European best practice in road safety throughout the Union. Whether we like it or not, believe it or not, this is what awaits us, but it is only for our own good.
The Treaty of Accession that we signed with the EU in April 2005 gives us a legal order described in more than 90 000 pages, based on directives and regulations standardising all sorts of areas of European life. Some of these are better known: emissions, food safety, fish quotas. But others are news to many. Who would have suspected that there is a European directive on … sweetened chestnut puree (by God, few in this country know its taste)! And recently the EC initiated a ban on cannibalism in domestic animals.
If every country in the EU were to reduce road accidents by 50 per cent, we would still top the rankings, and we would still be 4.2 times worse than the EU average. It is precisely because of the laggards (not the high performers) that the EU needs a common European road safety policy that prevents member states from deviating too far from the EU average. We consider it natural for the EC to penalise governments that do not deal with litter, game conservation or the environment. It is time to prepare for mechanisms that will ensure that road casualties in a country do not exceed the EU average by much. Or, to put it another way, if we do not get on the Euro road ourselves, let us prepare for Brussels to do so. The same (albeit in a more distant perspective) applies to traffic in Sofia: if we don’t fix our traffic jams, Brussels will have to fix theirs.
A common European road policy goes through common European road traffic legislation. And also through standardised (not necessarily identical) indicators: speed limits or alcohol limits, use of seat belts and lights, roundabouts (which save many accidents), not talking on GSM or smoking while driving, driving courses. As well as uniform Euro-globes and other penalties that would be most startling to road hooligans. Standardisation does not mean bureaucratic levelling: if the roads in Germany are objectively better and there are fewer accidents, let’s drive faster in Germany. For fines too – not to be the same, but in Italy, for example, to be proportional to the Italian ability to pay.
Someone will say: fines in this country do not help — their collection rate is very low. But that is also fixable. We will start with video cameras on the road, then we will introduce all sorts of GPS systems, and finally we will swap traffic policemen with England, Finland and Sweden – that will probably help. In future, we will also introduce a pan-European traffic police, which will be a natural development of European integration. This will complete the circle within the EU: common rules, common practices, common controls.
All this, and much more, is bound to happen. Let us prepare ourselves for the fact that in the European integration path the best is yet to come. Let us prepare ourselves for mandatory ESC, electronic stability control – a computer that reduces the risk of skidding, mandatory intelligence in cars, an in-built system that automatically signals an accident and other wonders against which 112 will seem like a child’s toy.
It is reasonable to ask: why are we not putting our own house in order while we wait for Brussels to force us to do so? Here is the answer. In 2000-2008, the negotiations with the EU created a new national reflex in us: the most important and most urgent state priorities come from Brussels, and the rest go to second or even tenth place. As with schoolchildren: the priority is the subject in which the test is tomorrow, not next term. Governments and municipalities are just like schoolchildren. So all the authorities from today onwards should know one thing: Brussels does not believe in tears – deeds, deeds and more deeds!
This fact of life makes Brussels our invaluable ally in the fight for self-improvement. According to the Lisbon Treaty, not only state institutions, but also civil society will have a legislative initiative. Let it realise this mission. As a Member State, we can demand a common European solution to a common problem that is most acute in our country. Common EU standards imply common EControl. This does not frighten us: we remember that scrutiny is the highest form of trust. It is even higher when it is European.