Five years after Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union, the countries’ road hauliers and shippers have the same rights as their counterparts in other EU countries to make multiple deliveries under rules that took effect this year.
But a leading French trade organisation has voiced strong objections to the move, saying lower wages and social costs in the EU’s newest members create an unfair advantage over domestic hauliers.
“The arrival of Romanian and Bulgarian shippers in the French marketplace will generate new competition tension due to very different social and fiscal differences,” the FNTR industry organisation said in a statement.
The organisation said the timing was bad, coming in the midst of a financial slump and rising costs for French transport companies.
Driving on empty
The objections stem for a 2009 EU regulation on road haulage aimed at boosting competition and productivity. Advocates in the European Commission and Parliament said a liberalised cabotage market would help bring down haulage costs but also cut traffic and pollution by reducing the number of transcontinental truckers returning home with empty rigs.
Under the EU rules, road hauliers can make three stops within seven days when crossing borders. For instance, a Romanian trucker delivering domestically produced goods to a Dutch port could load up on cargo twice on the trip home - delivering products to another Dutch customer and then picking up Romanian-bound cargo.
The European Shippers Council, which backs the liberalisation of haulage, sees the extension of cabotage rights as good for commerce and the environment by maximising use of rigs on the road.
Joost van Doesburg, policy manager for the Brussels-based industry group, says past objections to extending cabotage rights to newer EU countries like Poland never panned out and have led to strengthened east-west trade.
“In Western Europe we see a lot of Polish trucks on the roads and a lot of Polish truck drivers, but we also see that the amount of cargo leaving Poland for the western markets has increased significantly,” van Doesburg said. “Also the amount of cargo going back has increased.”
Van Doesburg said a shortage of lorry drivers in the Netherlands, Germany and other western countries makes it unlikely that Bulgarian and Romanian hauliers will put drivers out of work or lead to the failure of transport companies.
“If you want to become a truck driver, I’m sure I can find a dozen job opportunities for you within an hour,” he said.
Van Doesburg also dismissed concerns that eastern hauliers did not have the same safety standards as western countries, saying that routine inspections and an open market raise rather than hurt standards.
Common safety rules
A spokesperson for Siim Kallas, the European transport commissioner, said shippers across the EU must abide by EU laws on transport safety and working hours.
Some EU countries already allowed cabotage rights for transport companies and drivers from Bulgaria and Romania, but the EU-wide access took effect at the start of 2012. The same rules applied in the reverse, meaning that shipping companies from other countries could not haul goods out of either country.
The EU cabotage policies are credited with a steady decline in the number of transport rigs that return home empty. Last year, international lorries were empty 13.6% of their travel time, down from 15.3% two years earlier, the EU statistical agency Eurostat reported.
A further opening of the European market to Bulgaria and Romania follows major setbacks for the two countries, the EU’s poorest. Efforts to remove all restrictions on the free movement of people and workers five years after their EU accession have stumbled over concerns about corruption and criminal activity.