Despite last year’s Brexit vote UK MEPs continue to help formulate laws in the European Parliament, including those that govern transport. Meanwhile, EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc is meeting the transport committee to discuss the European mobility and transport package, part of an ambitious set of initiatives revising existing directives. The agenda covers O-licensing; rogue operations; road charging; cabotage; workers’ rights; digital technology; emissions; platooning; and enforcement. More proposals are expected this autumn.
As with the Brexit talks, the clock is ticking. Bulc wants the proposals passed before the next European Parliament elections in May 2019. Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019, but it is possible the UK government could accept the changes to harmonise international transport rules.
At the transport committee some proposals are greeted with scepticism. “There are a few hot potatoes to deal with,” one MEP dryly remarks.
Among these is a proposal to introduce new cabotage rules where visiting hauliers carry out unlimited work for five days, replacing the current rule of three jobs in seven days. During those five days the driver must be paid at least the local minimum wage.
“The current rules are unenforceable,” says Bulc, reasoning that tachographs accurately record time, whereas job numbers can be falsified.
Former truck driver and now Swedish MEP Peter Lundgren thinks the proposals could make things worse. “The existing law is easy to understand – after three jobs you go back to your own country. The new rules let visitors compete with local hauliers. The EU can’t allow member states to kill off each other,” he insists.
Another MEP fears there will be a “free for all” .
Woven into Bulc’s concerns is the Posted Workers Directive, which protects those who sent to work in another member state. Such rights are distorted by letterbox companies running asset-free transport operations to bypass rules of establishment. This results in low-paid drivers from poorer countries spending months away from home and living in their cabs.
“Transport companies must be properly constituted in the member state where they effectively and continuously manage their business,” says Bulc.
For non-cabotage international operations the minimum wage must be paid after three continuous days and drivers should return to their home after three weeks.
“Home is where the business is established and the driver is registered but drivers can be changed,” says Bulc. She believes the package will bring stability. “The purpose is to clarify rules that are enforceable, right now it is chaos.”
Transport committee chair Karima Delli wants tougher enforcement. “The mobility package doesn’t say much about inspections,” she says. “We need checks on rest time and conditions to avoid drivers sleeping in their cabs in deplorable conditions.”
A spokesman for the German Green Party, MEP Michael Cramer, says stories abound of drivers being treated as modern slaves. “A letterbox company created in Romania, pays only the Romanian minimum wage of €275 (£241) a month, but drivers may be away for months living in their cab in Germany.”
UK Labour MEP Lucy Anderson says: “Stopping the exploitation of truck, bus and coach drivers should be the priority of these proposals.”
A vote on the proposals by the whole European Parliament will be held following the summer recess, which runs from July to September.
The European Commission continues to support the principle of periodic training, where drivers carry out 35 hours of training over five years in seven-hour blocks. The transport committee is reviewing how this is managed, with some MEPs supporting splitting the seven-hour blocksinto shorter sessions spread over a number of days.
Working Time Directive
A long-awaited review on the Working Time Directive by the employment committee is beginning, led by two MEPs – one Dutch and one French.
“There’s a conflict between new and old member states on the directive,” says an employment committee spokesman.
New chair of transport committee
French Green Party MEP Karima Delli has replaced German MEP Michael Cramer as chair of the transport committee. First elected to the European Parliament in 2009, she joined the transport committee in 2014.
Delli is also vice-chair of the committee of inquiry into emission measurements in the automotive sector.
Presidency of the Council of the EU
The UK was due to take over the rotating presidency from July-December 2017. However, despite saying the UK would play a full part in the EU until leaving, the government has opted out of this influential role. Estonia has stepped in, bringing forward its six-month stint from January 2018.
European Parliament committees have reported to the EC on the effect Brexit might have on their work. The FTA has offered support to the transport committee for future Brexit-themed hearings.
The industry associations respond
The FTA opposes the new cabotage proposals. “The EC should leave the framework untouched and concentrate on better enforcement of the rules,” says Chris Yarsley, EU affairs manager.
He does not see letterbox companies as a UK problem. “Our requirement to specify vehicles on O-licences allows the traffic commissioner to judge whether a company is genuine. The EC wants to bring this into EU law, so hopefully it will have the same effect.”
The RHA says cabotage proposals are an unwelcome liberalisation. “It will make the industry more nomadic, with an increase in vehicles from outside the EU,” says RHA director of policy Jack Semple. He believes the industry might prefer ending cabotage at home and abroad with the UK securing a deal where operators move freely in Europe. Switzerland has a similar agreement.
As for Driver CPC training, “There should be greater flexibility on the seven-hour block and potential in the future for online training,” says Semple.
The UK now has an element of flexibility for splitting Driver CPC training blocks on time-based rules and the FTA could support further changes.