EU and UK argue about road freight as regulation is politicised again

Trucks Lorries

It was inevitable that the issue of road freight movements would become part of the disputes around the UK’s negotiations with the EU. The wider issue of ‘cabotage’- that is the operation of road freight services in the EU – is so complex and controversial amongst the remaining members, it was always likely to spill over into the negotiations with the UK.  

It is difficult to assess the reality of what is being discussed, however, the public relations staff of the EU negotiating team appeared to be briefing journalists yesterday (August 19) that they have rejected suggestions by the UK concerning the road freight market in the EU, describing them as “fundamentally unbalanced”. According to this account, the UK suggested an agreement for mutual free access to the two sides respective markets, a proposition which the EU dismissed, complaining that it resembled “membership of the single market”.

The peculiar thing is, it is the drivers and logistics companies of EU states that benefit disproportionately from the cross-Channel trade. As Richard Burnett of the UK’s Road Haulage Association commented, “85% of the volume of goods that come into the UK is moved by European hauliers – UK operators are responsible for the movement of only 15%.”

It is unclear what the real objectives of the two sides are or what the result will be.

However, prominent in the minds of the EU officials will be the politics around the ‘Mobility Package 2019’. Key to this was the desire by the German and French governments to regulate the level of penetration of central European drivers and hauliers into their respective national road freight markets. The regulations have ended up further limiting the ability of drivers to work in other countries of the EU, with drivers no longer allowed to take long breaks in their vehicles and requirements that they return to their home countries more frequently.

The cross-Channel trade and operations in the UK are very valuable to many central European drivers as well as road freight companies and losing access to the UK would be economically painful. However, the central European nations have found it difficult to make their voices heard in Brussels in the face of strong lobbying from the French government over the Mobility Package and this may well be the case in relation to the UK business. It very much seems that France and Germany will be keen to embrace regulation in the furtherance of both the protection of their domestic interests and political objectives.

Source: Transport Intelligence, August 20, 2020

Author: Thomas Cullen