In light of the current pandemic sweeping through the continent, the European Commission introduced Green Lanes throughout the EU in an effort to unclog freight movement. The concern among European governments regarding the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 led to the closure of many borders and the subsequent congestion of trucks carrying supplies at the borders. In line with the Commission’s efforts to alleviate the pressures on truck drivers and ensure continuity of necessities such as food supplies, it introduced guidance notes and asked all its member states to set up dedicated freight channels at international frontiers along the bloc’s trans-European transport network, also known as the TEN-T corridor. The so-called Green Lanes are open to all hauliers regardless of what freight they are carrying and border crossings should take a maximum of 15 minutes. The Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen called upon the member states to follow the guidelines and withdraw any restrictions on driving, such as night or weekends bans, as well as reduce the amount of required paperwork to cross internal borders.
Some, like the IRU, are still not completely satisfied with the introduced relaxations as it recommends the removal of all systemic checks at border, stating that from experience they know that trucks waiting for an average of 15 minutes will continue to result in huge delays, helping little in assuaging the situation. It has, however, welcomed the inclusion of all types of goods as essential and therefore deemed accessible to the Green Lanes. This measure is also in line with the European Parliament, as the head of the assembly’s agriculture committee, Norbert Lins, urged the Commission to include foodstuffs in the Green Lane criteria. Huge tailbacks have increasingly become a pressing matter over the month of March in particular, as the border closures had caused traffic jams stretching over 60km and some recorded crossing times took up more than an hour.
However, the Green Lane initiative’s implementation has not been as smooth and immediate as was hoped. The IRU raised concerns about the continued delays and border controls in Europe despite the introduction of said lanes and prompted the President of the IRU, Radu Dinescu, to write to EU transport ministers, urging them to properly implement all elements of the initiative. The letter reads, “part of the fight, and immediate concern, is to ensure supply chains remain functional. As a result of health and safety measures, the movement of goods has significantly decreased due to the general slowdown of the economic activity in the EU. The remaining movements are crucial to ensure continuity of essential supplies, such as food and medical goods”. It went on to highlight the importance of cooperation to ensure the integrity of logistics chains: “Newly created borders in the Schengen space should not lead to control measures that seriously hinder the flow of goods and prevents the delivery of food, water and medical supplies to citizens around Europe. Every day we observe kilometres of queues and long waiting times at borders. This is not acceptable”. More specifically, the President emphasised, “random inspections or road-side checks should be proportionate, moved inland wherever possible, and carried out only when deemed necessary. Priority must be given to providing drivers with access to safety protection equipment, safe and secure resting and recreation facilities and free COVID-19 testing upon request. Distinguishing between categories of freight is not appropriate nor needed. Therefore, in line with the European Commission’s practical guidance on the implementation of ‘Green Lanes’, we are asking not to differentiate between categories of freight”. Another point of contention was the requirement of additional administrative documents or special certificates that, according to the IRU, would only lead to more blockages along the borders and making social distancing more difficult as well, resulting in the undermining of the entire initiative and putting the drivers’ safety at risk.
Despite all foodstuffs being included in the EU’s Green Lane initiative, there have been continued requests to reduce measures for refrigerated storage and transport as well. The ESCLA (European Association for Refrigerated Storage and Logistics), to which ALDEFE (the Spanish business organisation) belongs, has been asking the European and Spanish authorities to recognise the temperature-controlled logistics sector as a critical service. They are also calling for the temporary suspension of the rules on driving and rest hours for refrigerated truck drivers, as well as the suspension of restrictions on delivery hours and lifting of driving bans to ensure the continued supply of essential foods.
Even though the EU was quick to introduce certain measures, unfortunately, it has not been able to react with necessary agility to a situation so grave and perilous that it has brought many industries to a standstill and governments scrambling for solutions. According to Eurostat, more than three quarters of total inland freight transport in the EU was by road in 2019, thus the resolution of blockages and delays for road freight is integral for the continuation of a semblance to everyday life and to ensure the supply of goods is met.
Source: Transport Intelligence, April 7, 2020