Brussels business lobby’s not to blame over Malta’s trucking debacle

Malta’s business lobby in Brussels has taken umbrage at comments by Labour MEP Alfred Sant that it had not alerted MEPs to EU rules on trucking which key industry players say will raise consumer prices in Malta

Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi said the new EU rules could raise consumer prices
Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi said the new EU rules could raise consumer prices

Malta’s business lobby in Brussels has taken umbrage at comments by Labour MEP Alfred Sant that it had not alerted MEPs to EU rules on trucking which key industry players say will raise consumer prices in Malta.

Sant said Malta’s six MEPs were unable to cover all crucial laws affecting Maltese competitiveness and that only in 2019 was one MEP appointed as substitute member in the EP’s transport committee.

Since 2018, major member states and key MEPs from that committee have locked horns on new rest rules for truckers, which Maltese employers believe will raise their costs by 10%.

Sant complained that the Malta Business Bureau had failed to raise a red flag so that MEPs could keep an eye on the EU mobility package.

“It is unfair to suggest we’re to blame for the outcome of an EU legislative package,” an MBB spokesperson told MaltaToday. “Dr Sant correctly points out that this topic was immensely divisive between western and eastern member states, including MEPs, who were driven by national interests not party lines.”

The Maltese government has already been criticised for failing to act early in the day on the rules, with talks in the European Council of transport ministers yielding no results. A last-ditch attempt by all six Maltese MEPs to jointly table a set of amendments to the rules in the transport committee also failed when no influential MEPs backed the Maltese demands.

On its part, the MBB said it had cooperated with both national business organisations and representatives of international haulers to express concerns on provisions that were most harmful to island regions like Malta. “The MBB communicated with the Maltese MEPs that followed closely this legislative package over the past weeks, particularly MEP Josianne Cutajar. We welcomed the bi-partisan approach by the Maltese MEPs in the submission of amendments ahead of the last Transport Committee vote in June, despite unfortunately being unsuccessful.”

The MBB said that with just two employees in Brussels, it stretched itself as much as is possible to be proactive on issues of business interest.

The former PN candidate for Europe, Peter Agius, who flagged the issue back in February, insisted that the Maltese government had moved only after a compromise deal involving a majority of EU states and committee MEPs was sealed. “The trick in Europe is to be part of compromises, not to nag at them after they are reached. The same is happening right now with the EU budget – we can’t blame Europe if we wake up when it is too late.

“Equally, we can’t blame Maltese business organisations, as Sant did, when I know, based on reliable sources, that the Maltese transport operators had in fact pleaded for government lobbying of their situation way back in 2018. That would have been the good time to lobby our case. What happened with those calls for action? If Malta’s particular interests were flagged in negotiations in Brussels, there must be memoranda and instruction notes on record. Government should clarify this forthwith. Silence in this case presumes guilt.”

Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi has warned that the new EU rules will increase freight costs and consumer prices.

“Every eight weeks, we will have to bring our trucks back to Malta for a week and then returned back to the continent. This means that every truck will be laying idle for six and a half weeks every year. To make good and ensure steady service, for every eight trucks we have on the continent, we will need to acquire another truck to fill the gap of the dead time of the fleet. Why should we be forced to invest €500,000 to acquire five new trucks without any return on investment?”

The new rules claim to improve working conditions for drivers by prohibiting truckers from spending their weekly rest period of 45 hours in the truck, which Azzopardi called ‘their second home’.

Instead, drivers will have to return home every four weeks. “Truckers find solace and pride in their truck cabin which they will always prefer to any hotel for just the weekend, every week they are on duty. I can vouch for this having personally done a tour with a trucker which enlightened me to understand how truckers think and feel.”

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