Members of the European Parliament signed off on updated trucking rules on Thursday (9 July) without accepting any amendments to the reform package that Central and Eastern European countries had pushed for.
After reaching a political agreement with the Council back in December, the Parliament still needed to endorse the package before it could become part of EU law. All three legal acts ultimately passed and all proposed amendments were rejected.
“The mobility package promotes fair competition between operators and improves road safety as well as drivers’ working conditions. The European single market cannot properly function without fair common rules which are uniformly controlled and enforced”, said one of the legislation’s rapporteurs, Henna Virkkunen (EPP).
Talks lasted three years and exposed a bitter divide between Europe’s west and east, with countries like Bulgaria and Romania branding the rules the ‘Macron Package’, a reference to the French president, while truck drivers turned up en masse in Brussels to protest the reforms.
MEPs were not unified in their support for the package though and during the vote yesterday, a noticeable split emerged when lawmakers were asked whether to adopt or reject the three separate chapters of the legislation.
Posting of drivers passed 469 votes to 218, cabotage made it through 513 to 174 and driving time was split 524 to 162.
Take a load off
The new rules say that drivers cannot take their mandatory weekly break inside their vehicle and that their company will have to pay for accommodation if the rest period is taken away from the driver’s home.
Virkunnen said that “certain minimum working standards are needed to ensure a level playing field between operators. Undermining employment conditions cannot be used as a competitive asset.”
“This will put an end to the damaging situation where truck drivers spent months living and working in their vehicles in appalling conditions,” according to the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF).
Head of the ETUC trade union Per Hilmersson said the vote “will prevent companies forcing drivers to spend months on end away from home, depriving them of their family and social life, while cheating them out of decent pay and social security contributions.”
However, ministers from nine countries opposed to the package – from Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania – wrote in a recent opinion piece for EURACTIV that the requirement is not all it is cracked up to be.
“The ban on taking a regular rest in the cabin of a vehicle is problematic, taking into account the COVID-19 requirements to keep social distance, as well as lack of adequate accommodation places and safe parking facilities in the EU,” they warned.
Secure truck stops are indeed a serious problem for the sector. According to the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the lack of a common standard of what qualifies as a safe facility is part of the problem.
An EU study in 2019 found that there is a lack of data on how many stops are actually needed. The knock-on effects include estimated annual cargo thefts totalling €8.2 billion and a decrease in the attractiveness of the profession, due to safety fears.
Single market fight
Socialist MEP Ismail Ertug insisted during a press conference after the vote that cabotage requirements and a four-day-long cooling off period are designed to address the “over-capacity” present in the sector.
New smart tachographs will be phased in to help record border crossings, driving times and unloading operations. The Commission is expected to define common standards for the technology.
Trucking firms will also have to demonstrate that they are active in the member state where they are registered, a new rule aimed at tackling letterbox companies.
But members of the industry maintain that the package is only geared towards protectionism and ignores the economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic that is facing the sector.
“The result of the vote is clear evidence of how profoundly divisive the Mobility Package is – between East and West, old and new, centre and periphery, industrial and service-oriented member states,” said the head of Lithuanian’s hauliers’ association, Romas Austinskas.
“We are extremely concerned that having this gulf deepened, the EU’s peripheral hauliers will miss out on long term benefits of the Single Market,” he added.
Critics of the new rules have also pointed out that the requirement for trucks to return to their home base on a regular basis will have a negative environmental impact and that Central and Eastern countries will be on the hook for increased CO2 output as a result.
Some estimates say it could produce up to three million extra tonnes of emissions every year and the Commission is currently producing an impact assessment on that particular aspect of the package.
EU transport chief Adina-Ioana Vălean said in a statement that “the social improvements of the Mobility Package I are significant, and to this end, I welcome the Parliament’s vote.”
However, she added that “the Commission regrets that the new set of rules includes elements that are possibly not in line with the European Green Deal’s ambitions and the European Council endorsement of the objective of achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050.”
She confirmed that her services “are currently assessing the expected impact of these two aspects on the climate, the environment, and the functioning of the Single Market, and we are gathering all the necessary information.”
When asked about what would happen if the analysis came back negative, MEP Ertug replied that he did not believe “this assessment will lead to a negative conclusion.”
The analysis, he added, is part of “the destructive strategy of stakeholders that are against this package”.
Extra rules on the posting of workers – which will apply to cabotage and international operators – will come into force 18 months after the legislation is published in the EU’s official journal.
The market access provisions, including the truck cooling-off period, will also come into force at the end of 2021, while the trucker rest period requirements will be applicable after just 20 days.