MEPs vote to lift national cabotage restrictions

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Restrictions on freight transport operations carried out within one member state by hauliers from another EU country (cabotage) must be fully lifted by 2014, Parliament’s transport committee has voted. The move has outraged socialist MEPs, which fear it will exacerbate social and fiscal competition between member states.

Parliament’s transport committee, on 22 January, backed a Commission proposal aimed at making it easier for truck drivers established in one EU country to carry goods within another member state (so-called ‘cabotage’). 

The purpose of the proposal is to avoid situations where trucks are forced to return home from their international transport operations with an empty load, thereby wasting time and fuel and producing unnecessary emissions. Until now, member states were able to set their own rules and some took advantage of this fact to adopt restrictive practices in order to limit competition from low-wage countries. 

In France, for example, truck drivers may only practice cabotage for a maximum of 45 days during the whole year. 

Under the new rules, cabotage would be authorised as often as needed, so long as hauliers make no more than three additional trips in the seven days following any journey abroad. While the Commission has not yet set a date for the entry into force of the new rules, the transport committee suggested that cabotage be fully liberalised as of 2014. MEPs further added that the right to undertake cabotage after the partial unloading of trucks and in transit countries on return trips should be unlimited. 

French socialist and Vice-President of the transport committee Gilles Savary, however, criticised the committee’s decision, saying a broad study on the state of harmonisation of social and fiscal conditions in the EU is needed before even starting to consider full liberalisation. “Social and fiscal convergence is indispensable […] A premature opening of the market would expose companies to a deadly unfair competition,” he declared, after members of his group voted against the report by EPP-ED rapporteur Mathieu Grosch. 

Savary expressed his backing for a “safeguard clause”, whereby member states could temporarily restrict cabotage on their territory in cases of “serious and objective difficulties” and said socialists would be tabling this clause again when the full plenary votes on the text in April. 

MEPs also unanimously backed another proposal aimed at raising the quality of coach services across Europe by raising the level of professional competence in the sector, increasing compliance with existing safety, social and technical specifications, and introducing new mechanisms for imposing sanctions across national borders. (see EURACTIV 24/05/07). 

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