Hauliers baulk at EU plans for dangerous cargo

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Parliament has backed rules allowing member states to prescribe specific modes of transport or routes for transporters of dangerous goods such as chemicals, despite fierce protests from hauliers, who claim that this will “complicate the business exponentially”.

MEPs adopted, on 5 September, a report supporting Commission plans to draw six existing pieces of legislation on the transportation of dangerous goods into a single Directive on the ‘inland transportation of dangerous goods’, covering road, rail and inland waterway transport. 

The vote gave backing to a clause – which had been scrapped in an earlier vote within the EP’s transport committee – allowing each of the 27 EU member states to apply more stringent rules or impose specific requirements, such as the use of prescribed routes or modes of transport for the transportation of dangerous goods within their territory. 

The rules will also allow countries to prohibit the transportation of dangerous goods across their territory for national security or environmental reasons. 

MEPs say the new Directive will make administrative procedures and safety checks easier and will raise the level of training of persons working in the sector, while enabling member states to ensure environmental protection. 

But hauliers attacked the plans, saying that having to comply with different rules in different countries would harm the industry and Europe’s competitiveness. 

Polish Socialist MEP Boguslaw Liberadzki, Parliament's rapporteur on the subject, pointed out that people can be at risk if the proper means of transport are not used and if training for operators and drivers is not to the highest levels. 

"The target of the proposed directive is to limit the risks of transporting dangerous goods for possible negative impacts on the environment. It is not an extra law and regulation, but a unification of several binding Conventions under the umbrella of the UN… This will not eliminate risks but will limit risks," he said. 

The International Road Transport Union said it was "totally against imposing the mode of transport to be used on business. Besides being anti-competitive and therefore questionable vis-à-vis European law, this will also gravely penalise the entire chemical goods industry, its competitiveness and especially the carriers of dangerous goods themselves'. 

Paul Wauters, president of the IRU's Expert Group on Dangerous Goods, added: "Imposing modes of transport is something we would have expected from the former Soviet Union, not from the EU, which is all about creating a single free market! If we start to dictate such measures for our dangerous goods sector, we are certain to see the chemical industry leave its European production plants to produce in countries outside the EU, hence impacting employment. All that will be achieved by the imposition of a prescribed mode of transport on prescribed routes will be a huge penalty on the end customer, and on Europe's productivity and competitiveness." 

"This will complicate the business exponentially," the IRU's Parliament Liason Officer Rafael Jimenez-Aybar told EURACTIV, adding that the vote did "not set a good precedent for other sectors of transport". 

8% of all freight is composed of dangerous goods such as flammable liquids and gases, corrosive substances such as sulphuric acid, and sometimes also infectious diseases and radioactive material. 

At present a patchwork of rules, defined at regional, national, Community and international (UN) level, covers safety measures for each mode. 

The Commission says that the current rules are overly complicated and difficult for transport operators and national authorities to implement, and that if nothing is done, they are likely to become even more complex due to changes in international agreements. 

Furthermore, with the increasing use of multimodal transport, maintaining different rules for different modes of transport will likely cause practical problems and unnecessarily increase costs. 

Therefore, in 2006, it proposed harmonising and simplifying EU rules to make them safer and more user-friendly, as well as to integrate the growing inland waterway sector, which is currently not subject to any Community safety measures. 

  • 6 June 2007: The Transport Council adopted a general approach on the proposal. The legislation is likely to be adopted speedily as the Parliament's first reading vote concurs with the Council's approach.
  • 1st Oct. 2007: Possible vote in the Transport Council.

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