Friday, February 18, 2011
Free borders but expensive local roads
Although Europeans are allowed to travel freely between their national boundaries (See Note 1 below), and Taiwanese have just started to enjoy the convenience of the EU 90-day visa-free entry, yet there are known safety and other issues for travelers as one moves further south or east in the European continent.
One example of such concern is in southern Italy, a car may suddenly stop in front of you blocking your way and demanding a payment, if you don’t cooperate, you will be encountering all kinds of problems further down the road.
Tour operators are quite familiar with the problem and do give their coach drivers some money for paying the road-side bandits (mafia?) in order to have safe passage guarantee along the road, and I guess many tour operators must have added the hidden expense in their package tour price (if it is €100 per coach with 30 passengers, it's merely €3.3 per person). Private car owners or renters are no exceptions to the road-side "robbery".
However, a tourist is at liberty to avoid visiting places whose police are out of sight and local mafias are in charge.
Another example, during Christmas and Easter holidays many Romanian migration workers in Greece travel back home for holidays. They need to cross the Bulgarian border and drive on Bulgarian highways before reaching Romania. According to many of my Romanian friends, the Bulgarian police may stop a driver even if he drives within the speed limit and obeys all the traffic signs. If a person is not lucky, he may be stopped by the police without any traffic violations at several different sections of the road before reaching the Romania border.
Usually the Bulgarian police check your driver’s license, insurance paper or whatever document deemed necessary to operate the car legally and safely. Even if all the documents are in proper order and with no traffic violations, they will start writing a ticket, but as soon as sufficient money (usually between 10 to 20 Euros) is paid on the spot, they will stop issuing the ticket and let you continue your journey.
People travelling on this route usually make sure that they carry enough 10 or 20 Euro denominations; the 5 Euro denomination may not satisfy the greedy police whereas you won’t get any change back if you happen to have only the 50 Euro denomination.
Why the Bulgarian police are highway “robbers” instead of law enforcement officers? Here is what I found in the internet that explains:
The average monthly salary of young Bulgarian policemen is about €250 and €450 for those with extensive professional experience. The average salary in Bulgaria is some 600 lev (€300). So the starting salary for a policeman is about 50 Euro less than the national average salary of all trade. Work-related expenses such as gasoline, office supplies are sometimes paid out of police’s own pockets, or brought from home as in laptop computers. (Ref: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bulgarian-romanian-policemen-plan-joint-protest)
As a comparison, a full-time migration worker working in domestic help in Greece may earn in the range of €600 to €800 monthly, so they are considered quite “rich” from the Bulgarian police’s point of view.
After east European countries joined the EU, their people’s salaries haven't quite caught up with the rising cost of living. Some government officials found other ways to earn extra incomings to the extent that they became greedy, some custom officers in Romania have been accused of engaging in cigarette smuggling. This is the faster way for them to get rich and catch up with the west I guess. But I respect governmenmt officials that care about their people's daily living, their future generation, and their national image and not just their own pockets. Unfortunately, in the southeast Europe this kind of government officials are rare.
Slightly off topic but worth mentioning is that a friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher told me that now the Greek government has no money, the teachers have to buy supplies of chalks for the black boards out of their own pockets, but in the west many countries are probably using the Smart Board now. Cut on retirement pensions, capped salaries, rising taxes, plus possible rising food prices this year will make average people's life even more difficult.
One Europe, one union but indeed very different ways of life as one travels from west to east.
With the exception of Bulgarians & Romanians who are not yet allowed to travel visa-free to Shengen countries.
Searching for European statistics? Eurostat explained