Ministers in last-ditch attempt to sway MEPs on trucking rules

Transport ministers for Malta and eight EU countries are appealing to the European Parliament over the adoption of reforms to the road transport sector 

Transport ministers for Malta and eight EU countries are appealing to the European Parliament over the adoption of reforms to the road transport sector which they believe undermine the competitiveness of transport companies.

The vote by MEPs takes place on 8 July.

While the mobility package ensures better working and social conditions for drivers, there will be an obligation for trucks in international transport to return to the company’s operational centre every eight weeks which would mean empty journeys to Malta, and other countries, for road freight operators.

In addition to the greenhouse gases produced as a result, the obligation may entail higher freight rates and general logistical inefficiency.

Island and peripheral countries of the EU believe the proposed restrictions discriminate against them and have written to the European Parliament.

The eight countries opposing the new law are Estonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Romania.

Transport minister Ian Borg, who signed the address, said this was a long and costly journey for Malta, and called on MEPs not to back the rules, accusing them of being protectionist.

Borg has been criticised for failing to build momentum on behalf of the Maltese trucking industry two years in advance.

Malta failed to influence European transport rules, which industrialists fear will raise their costs of cabotage and logistics by at least 10%.

In a last-ditch attempt at forcing concessions on the deal, in a rare move of national unity Malta’s six MEPs tabled a host of amendments to the proposed rules during the last transport committee meeting that approved the proposed law: none of the amendments passed.

In February, the former PN candidate for Europe Peter Agius had already sounded the alarm on EU negotiations advancing fast on the new rules, to the detriment of Maltese industry.

Agius had warned that Malta had to intervene much earlier in EU negotiations across the board. “Other Member States would have already established their main objectives before the European Commission has presented new legislation, and move forthwith to modify proposals in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. In this case we are moving three years late when most ministers in Council and MEPs in the European Parliament have already made up their minds,” Agius had said.

The rules will also force companies to have the trucks return to the company’s headquarters every eight weeks, in a move designed to prevent haulage companies from trying to register in other EU countries to take advantage of lower taxes.

Maltese companies believe the rules will cost them between €500,000 and €1 million be-cause of the need to buy more trucks and employ more people.

Better working conditions for drivers

The new rules will help ensure better rest conditions for drivers and allow them to spend more time at home, by forcing companies to return drivers in international freight transport every three or four weeks.

The mandatory rest period at the end of the week, known as regular weekly rest, cannot be taken in the truck cab. If this rest period is taken away from home, the company must pay for accommodation costs.

The rules will also ensure fairer competition and fight illegal practices with vehicle tachographs to register border-crossings in the fight against fraud, as well as also limiting cabotage to three operations within seven days.

A provisional agreement was already reached between the Council presidency and the European Parliament in December 2019. The Transport Committee first backed the deal with the EU Ministers on 21 January. The Council adopted the reform on 7 April.

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