Court cases over ‘Mobility Package’ pit Bulgaria against powerful EU countries

File photo. Protest of Bulgarian truck drivers in Brussels, 10 January 2019. "Macron, don't divide Europe", reads the banner. [EURACTIV]

Bulgaria has filed three appeals with the Court of Justice requesting a full or partial repeal of the EU legislation that has become known as the Mobility Package. The court cases pit Bulgaria against major EU countries, including France and Germany.

Bulgaria calls the revamped Mobility package, adopted in July 2020, “the Macron package”, as French President Emmanuel Macron had been vocal about the need to re-vamp the EU rules regulating truck transport.

Several Eastern European states condemned the reform when it was adopted by the European Parliament, branding it as “protectionist”.

Bulgaria said the rules were “imbalanced” and “discriminatory” towards companies from countries on the fringes of the European Union, whose drivers would have to return home every three to four weeks, and said from the outset it would challenge the revamped legislation in court.

Bulgaria to challenge EU mobility package reforms in court

Bulgaria’s government said Wednesday (21 October) it would challenge in court parts of a major EU-wide reform agreed earlier this year aimed at improving road hauliers’ work conditions.

Vehicles would have to come back to companies’ operational centres every eight weeks, which eastern countries complain would necessitate long and potentially environmentally damaging journeys.

From the answers of the transport ministry in Sofia provided to EURACTIV Bulgaria, it becomes clear that Bulgaria continues to lobby for non-implementation of the provision for the mandatory return of trucks every eight weeks. However, there is no result so far, and the time until the entry into force of the provision expires in February.

EU split over Mobility Package

The Mobility package has literally split the union in two before the Court of Justice. Romania, Estonia and Latvia have joined in the three cases filed by Bulgaria as supporting parties. On the other side, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden, Greece, and Austria have registered as supporters of the Mobility Package.

Separate lawsuits have been filed by Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Cyprus, and Romania. Estonia and Latvia have also joined some of the complaints filed by the so-called group of like-minded member states.

The Mobility Package was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 31 July 2020, and most Central and Eastern European member states began preparing their lawsuits then.

The rules on market access, return of trucks and secondment of drivers must enter into force 18 months after their publication in the Official Journal of the EU, on 1 February 2022. The rules on compulsory driver breaks are already in force.

The Court of Justice of the EU is expected to decide in October on the format of the cases and oral hearings will follow.

The issue of returning trucks and drivers to their countries of origin has raised eyebrows because of its climate implications. Now it has also become even more relevant due to the rising global fuel prices and the transport crisis in the UK.

EU's 'Mobility Package' will negatively impact citizens, climate and the economy

Transport ministers from nine EU countries are calling upon the European Parliament to make adjustments to the first Mobility Package in order to take into account fair competition, EU climate policy objectives and the single market, as well as new socio-economic realities post COVID-19.

On the day of the final adoption of the Mobility package, EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean admitted that it was possible for the Commission to come up with a legislative proposal to remove the mandatory return of trucks every eight months and restrictions on cabotage before they enter into force.

Bulgaria has made no secret of its efforts to lobby the Commission for a revised legislative proposal that would completely delete the text referring to the return of trucks to the country of origin.

“Unfortunately, due to the lack of change in the position of the countries of the so-called ‘Road Alliance’ and their influence, such a legislative proposal has not been presented at this stage,” Bulgaria’s transport ministry said.

“However, the efforts of the group of like-minded member states continue and in October 2021, talks and joint efforts to find a solution will continue,” it said.

The driver of the changes to the Mobility package had been France, arguing they would improve working conditions for drivers and end illegal cabotage practices.

Bulgarian carriers are against the mandatory return of the trucks to their home country. In an attempt to adjust to the new requirements, some of the large Bulgarian companies have already registered their companies in Western countries so that they can continue to operate.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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