What the EU's new trucking rules mean

UPDATE APRIL 2022: The European Union reached a milestone on the Mobility Package when it entered into force in all 27 EU Member States in February 2022. However, while many of its measures went into effect, the topic is still sensitive as several countries including Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Romania are fighting a rearguard action at the Court of Justice of the EU.
What the EU's new trucking rules mean

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by the European Transport Forum (ETF), a platform for open debate on the future of European Transport, to provide insights on hot topics dealing with mobility. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect an official position of Volvo.

Furthermore, this article was originally published on July 27, 2020 and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Western European countries argue that this package is meant to prevent a race to the bottom for the industry, but Central and Eastern European countries accuse this package of being too protectionist and providing more benefits to only western trucking companies. The court ruling is expected later this year.

In March 2022, the EU Road Transport Committee adopted more rules on the enforcement of the Mobility Package which were meant to further harmonise road transport enforcement practices across all Member States. These legislative acts included how to rate the risk profile of transport companies and define how severe infringement of the new rules will be. The risk rating operators are expected to be available for roadside enforcers in August 2023.

The heart of the conflict though seems to be coming from the Member States, as not only does tension from the East and West continues, but also from the fact that most Member States are not making information on the Mobility Package widely accessible in their countries.

Unfortunately, despite of the EU’s efforts on improving the working conditions of around three million truck drivers, the current geopolitical situation once again showed the vulnerability of professional truck, bus and coach drivers in times of crisis, especially at borders. Drivers of many nationalities are caught up in the crisis with, as estimated by the IRU, 5,000 truck drivers currently stuck on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border and the wider region, some caught up in crossfire. Unfortunately, similarly, to the early COVID-19 times, blocked drivers are once again facing poor facilities, security threats, and lack of food, water and sanitary facilities. In addition, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is exacerbating an ongoing truck driver shortage in Central Europe, on top of which Ukrainian truck drivers working in western Europe are abandoning their jobs to return home and fight the Russian army.

Truck drivers are essential workers with hundreds of millions of people who rely on the goods delivered by them every day. Unfortunately, despite their visible relevance, they are still facing long, stressful, and often underpaid hours away from home, with their situation that worsened due to the recent global and geopolitical circumstances. Global governments not only need to help turn their hard jobs into meaningful and respected careers to secure their future financial situation, but also aim to make truck driving safer to save lives of those drivers and many other on our roads.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE 27/07/2020: Truck drivers are almost literally the motors of the economy. They transport nearly everything we buy and use, and without them, our lives would grind to a halt. Their importance was underlined at the start of the coronavirus crisis when borders closed and businesses shuttered, putting vital supplies at risk. Truckers do a vital job – and a tough one: they drive long hours, in difficult working conditions far from home. As some of the European Union’s most regular cross-border travellers, shouldn’t they be offered basic social protections?

For the past three years, the EU has been trying to set rules for truck drivers, and a new reform was finally confirmed on July 9 when the European Parliament voted on the so-called Mobility Package.

Splitting the EU along geographical lines

The Mobility Package’s stated aim is to improve the working conditions of around three million truck drivers, ensuring a level-playing field between more than half a million European transport companies. Drivers will be able to return to their country of origin every four weeks and will have to take their long weekly rests outside their trucks. It will be harder for trucks to operate in a foreign member state – and when they do, local salary levels will apply.

However, it is fair to say that despite the three years of intense debate, the issue is still touchy.

The measure split the EU along geographical lines. The western, older EU members insisted the package was needed to ensure basic standards for both drivers and trucking companies, so there is no race to the bottom or social dumping when it comes to offering services.

Disrupting the EU Single Market

Backed by road transport unions, they insisted that truck driving had to be made more secure, better paid and less bureaucratic. “The mobility package promotes fair competition between operators and improves road safety as well as drivers’ working conditions,” said Finnish EPP MEP Henna Virkkunen, who co-authored the legislation. “The European single market cannot properly function without fair common rules which are uniformly controlled and enforced.”

But the newer, mainly eastern members said the proposals would undermine the freedom to provide services, one of the EU’s four fundamental freedoms. In a strongly-worded joint statement issued just before MEPs approved the package, nine eastern EU members said the measure would restrict their access to the transport market – as they are generally cheaper than their western counterparts. “The new provisions disrupt the EU single market by introducing artificial administrative barriers. At the same time, they go against the EU’s ambitious climate goals,” they said. In other words, the measure is seen as a protectionist block on cheaper, more efficient competition from eastern Europe.

After the vote, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius described it as “deplorable”, adding that, “This decision will bring no benefits for European citizens and will complicate post-COVID-19 recovery.”

Is this about social standards or competitiveness?

Critics also say the demand for trucks to return to their home base regularly undermines the EU’s climate plans, producing up to three million extra tonnes of emissions every year. Even though EU Transport Commissioner Adina-Ioana Vălean said she welcomed the Parliament’s vote, she warned that, “some elements that are possibly not in line with the European Green Deal’s ambitions.”

All this shows how the EU is still struggling with its single market. The freedom that it promises also implies opening up the market to competition. Western members say this is about upholding basic social standards, eastern ones say it is about competitiveness. Although MEPs may have settled the issue for now, the debate is likely to continue for a long time to come.