Malta loses out on EU trucking rules

Rare bid by all six MEPs to present amendments to EU cabotage rules fails after Council does not move on Malta’s protestations

Transport minister Ian Borg: EU ministers failed to take on board Malta’s protestations on the cabotage rules
Transport minister Ian Borg: EU ministers failed to take on board Malta’s protestations on the cabotage rules

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

MEPs in the European Parliament’s transport committee last Monday endorsed a deal reached with EU ministers on a major reform of the road transport sector. The rules will set mandatory conditions for drivers’ rest times and their place of rest.

But Maltese companies say the new rules will punish island economies like Malta the most.

Despite a late bid this year by transport minister Ian Borg to take up the matter in the European Council, MaltaToday is informed that no agreement was reached with EU ministers taking none of Malta’s pleas for regard of its industry on board.

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

While the vote was taken by a show of hands, the key outcome was a confirmation of an earlier decision in January, supporting all the rapporteurs’ recommendations without amendments.

Despite the national effort, the Maltese amendments lacked any support from key MEPs with influence inside the transport committee to support any of the last-minute changes.

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.

Transport minister Ian Borg had then said Malta would back its trucking companies in fighting EU rules that would force them to provide a paid rest period of around 45 hours every three to four consecutive weeks, at “the employer’s establishment or to the drivers’ place of residence”.

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.

But the original European Commission proposal has been on the table since May 2017, and was discussed by MEPs five times in the European Parliament. Malta has already been accused of voicing its objections late on the matter, failing to coordinate better in the earlier stages of such laws by meeting stakeholders and MEPs.

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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