Continuing conflict over European road tolls and drivers

The interminable conflict in the EU over free-trade in road freight took a few more turns, with a court case against Germany over road tolls, and a row between a string of different nations over the ability of central European drivers to work in Western Europe.

The European Union is taking Germany to court over the issue of tolls on trucks and cars using the German autobahn. Whilst the LKW-MAUT electronic charging system on trucks using the autobahns has existed for several years, Berlin is planning to introduce a new special levy of €130 on both trucks and cars which can be reclaimed by German tax-payers but not by non-Germans. The EU objects to this aspect of the charge.

The scheme has been pushed forward by politicians in Bavaria who believe their region suffers disproportionately from truck-traffic displaced from Switzerland and Austria, both of whom have toll systems.

At the same time, the transport ministers of France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Italy have written a letter of complaint to the EU about “unfair competition” in the trucking market from central Europeans. The western European states accuse central Europeans of setting-up “shell companies” to circumvent regulations about cross-border truck movements. They are also angry that increasingly central European drivers spend “weekly rest time in their vehicles”.

The transport ministers believe the longer-term objective should be to align what they call “social standards” between the countries of the EU. This relates to an earlier argument between Germany and France on the one hand and Poland on the other, about minimum wages. Both the Germans and the French governments attempted to impose minimum wage rates on central European drivers passing across their territory, but were forced to relent after complaints from Poland.

The reality is that central European drivers and trucking companies have had an enormous impact on the road freight market in western Europe. Despite extensive restrictions on the employment of non-residents in many economies, almost all cross-border road freight companies rely on drivers from central Europe. Their wages are lower in a sector which is under consistent cost pressure and where the price of freight has barely increased in a decade.  They are also willing to tolerate the poor conditions that characterise long-distance truck driving. There is a shortage of truck drivers in western Europe and any interruption to services from central Europe would drive up road freight costs significantly.

For more information on European Road Freight please see Ti’s European Road Freight Transport 2015 report. Alternatively, to register your interest in European Road Freight Transport 2016, due to be published later this year, please contact Michael Clover: [email protected]

Source: Transport Intelligence, October 4, 2016

Author: Thomas Cullen