A UK business group will today (22 July) make a formal complaint to the European Commission against the French government for allegedly failing to prevent fishermen from blocking ports in France. The blockades have brought hundreds of small businesses to the brink of bankruptcy and breach the EU treaties, according to the UK-based Federation of Small Businesses.
The FSB, flanked by UK Conservative MEP Richard Ashwood and UK Liberal MEP Sharon Bowles, will tell EU officials that France has failed to live up to its obligations and has not compensated UK haulage firms for the disruption.
SMEs account for 99% of the UK’s 100,000 transport firms and, coupled with falling demand and volatile fuel prices, many of these companies find themselves in a precarious position. French fisherman block ports “at least once a year,” according to the FSB, paralysing road networks and costing UK companies around €1 million per day.
The complaint comes under Article 226 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community, and the business group will claim that the French authorities are in breach of several clauses. UK hauliers want the European Commission to take action against France to prevent future protests and secure compensation for truckers.
“The free movement of goods, freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services are the cornerstones of the internal market,” said the FSB. “Member states act contrary to the Treaty if they fail to secure these freedoms within their territory.”
The move, also supported by the European Small Business Alliance, is not without precedent. France was subject to a similar complaint for failure to prevent vandalism by French farmers in 1997. The case resulted in the introduction of a European Council regulation designed to eliminate obstacles to trade.
SMEs have been hit hardest by the blockade, as many small firms have just one or two vehicles, and a protest at Calais could halt their business. A survey of UK Road Haulage Association members carried out at the end of January this year has shown that 70% had seen a downturn in business of at least 10% against January 2008.
The FSB will also suggest that disruption jeopardises efforts to comply with the European Working Time Directive, which states that truck drivers are allowed to be on the road for a maximum of nine hours per day or 90 hours per fortnight. These time restrictions also include time taken in traffic jams.