MEPs will vote this week on a major reform of the road transport sector, the so-called Mobility Package, which has been the subject of intense debates since 2017.
Patrick Ranocha, a Belgian truck driver who has been roaming the roads of Europe for the last 20 years, welcomes the move.
He says the general working conditions in the sector have worsened during the course of his career.
“It’s becoming difficult,” Ranocha said. “There are a lot of trucks, especially from eastern Europe. We don’t have as much work as before.”
Patrick works for a small company — which has about 20 trucks — on the outskirts of Brussels. According to his employer, Alain Adriaens, the EU's 2004 enlargement to eastern Europea has made it harder for companies like his to remain competitive.
“Drivers coming mostly from Eastern Europe, with a cheaper labour force, has really created unfair competition with the transporters established in Belgium,” Adriaens says.
Drivers at Adriaens’ company earn an average of €3,500 gross per month. In some eastern European countries, this amount, excluding travel allowances, can be five times lower. Meanwhile, these drivers spend months at a time on the road, mostly in western Europe, living and working in their trucks.
This situation could soon change.
“The Mobility Package has created a lot of tensions, with two visions," said Karima Delli, chair of the committee on transport at the European Parliament,
"On the one hand, states and MEPs who were pushing for a very strong social harmonisation and on the other hand, members states or MEPs who were more in favour of liberalisation of the rules.”
If the new rules are adopted, it will be harder for trucks to operate in a foreign member state. And when they do, local salary levels will apply.
Drivers will be able to go back to their country of origin every four weeks and will not be allowed to take their weekly rest inside their truck.
Finally, companies will need to prove a substantial activity in the country where they are registered, and their trucks will have to return to that base every eight weeks.
While some in the EU applaud these changes, others claim it is an attack against the Single Market and a threat to their economies.
Kosma Zlotowski, a Polish MEP from the ECR group, said: “The transport sector is responsible for about 6% of Polish GDP, and it will be less it’s obvious. But it will affect not only the Polish economy, but it will also affect the European economy because transport becomes more expensive.”
If adopted, most of the new rules will start applying in 18 months. However, the rules on resting and driving time will apply 20 days after publication of the act.