#MobilityPackage – The last chapter for the European Union?

| September 2, 2019

I was born two years after the criminal system of Communism had been overthrown in Poland. That happened for the very first time in world history. For readers from the western Europe, communism is just one of many ideologies. For readers from Eastern Europe, those behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, there is almost 50 years of stagnation in times of unprecedented dynamics of development in the history of the whole world, writes road transport industry operational consultant and trainer Mariusz Kołodziej (pictured, below).

After the tragedy of World War II, Europe was divided into two worlds. Western Europe – a free market world, rich and free, and Eastern Europe – a world of robbery centrally controlled economy, poverty and enslavement.

I grew up in the time of “transformation”, when we moved from the world of communism to the free market one. It was a difficult period, defined by high unemployment, declining workplaces and constant fear there would be enough money till the next salary. Only those who decided to leave their homeland for work would go abroad. I don’t think that during those times (the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century), anyone would go on vacation to eg. Greece or Spain. We knew these countries only from the movies, although they are not as far as it seemed at that time.

Everyone, regardless of their views, wanted to join the Western world. We had to reorganize the entire country to be able to leave the Soviet system in the NATO alliance and then be accepted into the European Union. The European Union hoped that, after half a century of wars and enslavement, we would be finally able to develop. In the first years after joining the European Union, many compatriots went abroad to look for a better life, i.e. working at a kitchen sink in London restaurants, as assistance in old people’s homes in Germany, or as plumbers in France.

At the same time, the markets of the new member states were opened to products from the old Union. We were a source of cheap labor and an outlet market (often of inferior quality). It did not bother anyone, we were glad that we were finally the part of the Western world. Somewhere deep in the heart, many citizens from Central and Eastern Europe believed that we would build our prosperity on the values of the European Union and bolster empower of the entire European Union. Over the years, it has turned out that we are strengthening the European Union, but the European Union does not necessarily want to strengthen us.

We appreciate and do not underestimate the large amounts that flow from European funds for the development of e.g. infrastructure. These are the instruments that allow us to make up for the losses that have accumulated since World War II. The beneficiaries of these funds are not only the countries in which roads are being built, but above those the contracting companies come from. That’s where the profit stays and these economies derive real value from this type of solution. Contracts from European funds are most often realized by companies from “old Union” countries, thanks to which they have active access to the values offered by the European Union. Countries that entered after the year of 2004 usually have passive access. We get funds, we can travel around Europe, leave for work to richer countries.

I have always thought that the European Union is the place in the world where the interest of the community is above the interest of selected groups. I thought that although I grew up in a post-communist country, on 1st May 2004, I got a chance to stop be “worse” and be able to become “equal”. Looking at the industry I work in, meaning road transport, I noticed that it was the naive faith of a young man in the slogans of Eurocrats.

Over the past 15 years, transport companies from new member states have managed to build a leading position in the entire European market and today it is trying to weaken our position, at the same time destroying EU values.

If the economy is the heart of our community, then transport is its bloodstream. There is no European Union without transport. The Transport Industry realizes the main value of the community, i.e. freedom and goals such as:
– Supporting economic well-being of UE citizens;
– guaranteeing freedom, security and justice in a space without internal borders;
– promoting sustainable development based on sustainable economic growth and price stability, on a highly competitive market economy, enabling full employment and social progress and environmental protection;
– combating social exclusion and discrimination;
– increasing economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity between member states, and;
– establishing economic union.

Various proposals focusing around the so-called “Mobility package” at many points, undermine the free movement of goods. That’s happens because they do not take into account the mobile nature of the road transport industry In particular.

Many countries have already banned drivers from taking weekly full time breaks in their truck cabs. Explaining that would be of the drivers best. The equipment of the modern truck cabin resembles the conditions in mid-range sleeping places. In the cabins the driver has the opportunity to maintain intimacy, hygiene and rest on a comfortable bed, which is not possible in the majority of roadside hostels (which are almost gone, by the way!)

Let’s try to answer the question honestly, is it really about the working conditions of drivers? When no one is talking about the programme for building a network of secure parking lots with sanitary facilities. Perhaps it is just about protection of one’s own markets against foreign competition? I would not associate such practices with the EU few years ago.

Not all of the proposals are bad, some introduce the industry to modern times, such as new tachographs that will allow easier detection of any unfair practices, harmonization of road charges or reduction of CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, many other proposals will not only destroy the European Union, but first and foremost weaken the countries of the old Union, including Germany and France.
How is it possible that a protectionist proposal will not protect but destroy?

More expensive products

Let’s look at the things around us. We may not know what the supply chain looks like for an individual item we take into consideration. However, we can be sure that everything we see has been transported. The cost of transport is included in the price of each product!
30% of international transport of goods on EU roads is carried out by companies from Poland. By adding the share of companies from other countries in this part of Europe (e.g. Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania), it can be stated that the functioning of the EU economy is based on carriers from the EU’s eastern flank.

As a result of the proposal to limit cabotage operations, a foreign truck, which carries out e.g. deliveries between factories and warehouses in Germany, after 3 operations (within Germany) or after 7 days, will have to leave Germany not being able to return for 5 days, to maintain the supply chain! Forwarders will have to substitute another car, and “empty kilometers” generated will paid by the German manufacturer. As a result this will contribute into the final price of the product.

Finally, the consumer will pay for all the above. Contrary to the expectations of some people, this regulations does not hit the carriers from the east, because the carrier earns on the number of kilometers generated. The more kilometers are made, the more money is earn. The consequences is that an ordinary citizen pays for it while shopping. Please note that today logistics companies have a big problem with finding vehicles to carry out transports. The proposed cabotage restrictions will only aggravate the crisis.

Weakening of the EU economy

As I have already mentioned, transport is the bloodstream of economies. There is a high risk of serious illness if we do not take care of our common economy health in good time. According to Eurostat, European road transport increased in 2013-2017 by as much as 12 percent! Every hit on transport is reflected in the condition and strength of the European Union. Unable to make fast and efficient deliveries, our economy will lose out to economies from other regions of the world.

According to forced proposals, all cross trade transport (according to Eurostat, this type of transport accounts for 26% of all transport in the EU in 2017), i.e. between European Union countries (not being the carrier’s seat), will be limited to 2 during one trip. In this way, e.g. a Polish truck that loads in Poland to unloads in Spain, will be able to either return directly to Poland or possibly carry out two transportations e.g. between Spain and France, and then e.g. between France and Germany.

Currently, such a truck is carrying out cross trade without restrictions, thanks to which it supports the development of economies, e.g. France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. At the same time, it eliminates “the empty kilometers”, offering better price and quality. Most often, such a trip lasts two weeks, and the driver returns home to rest. During this time, you can complete over 10 different transports! According to new proposals in the depicted situation, such a truck will carry out maximum of 4 transports within 2 weeks.

Ecology

In 2017, according to Eurostat, 1/5 of all transportations on the European Union’s roads ware carried out empty. In other words, 23% of all kilometers traveled in domestic transport and almost 13% in international transport took place without any load. It was unproductive and generated unnecessary additional CO2 emissions. According to the Federal Office for Freight Transport (BAG) in Germany, trucks traveled over 33.5 billion kilometers on German toll roads in 2017. Given the EU average for empty kilometres, you can assume nearly 7 billion of kilometres empty.

These fewer than 7 billion empty kilometres in Germany alone are the result which was obtained two years ago when most of the forced proposals in the EU were not implemented. Any difficulties in optimizing transport through cross trade and cabotage will cause empty kilometers to rise unimaginably, which will have a catastrophic impact on the environment.

Instead of reducing restrictions by allowing for transport optimization, policy makers do the opposite. On 18 April, MEPs applied new stricter CO2 requirements according to CO2 emission for trucks to decrease CO2 production by 30% among new trucks. Why are the solutions that destroy the environment are being forced?

Increasing unemployment

In countries such as France, unemployment stands at around 8-10%. Many companies, that once conducted production in Western countries, decided to move their factories to Eastern Europe or even to Asia. The main reason for such actions was caused by the desire to reduce labor costs. In the eastern EU countries, salaries and tax burdens are definitely lower than those in the west.

After introducing the mobility package in the form currently developed, large manufacturing companies will gain another argument for this type of practice. Increased transport costs will make production in western countries even more expensive. More over there is not only an efficient transport and logistics industry in Eastern Europe but also: labor cost, fuel, warehouse and office space rental costs are lower. All these factors will strengthen the trend of closing factories in the west.

According to Eurostat, in 2017 in the following flows (road transport), the share of foreign carriers (cross trade) is as presented:
Germany <- -> Italy 58%, mainly Polish carriers
Belgium <- -> Germany: 55%, mainly Polish carriers
France <- -> Germany: 51%, mainly Polish carriers
France <- -> Italy: 44%, mainly Polish carriers
France <- -> Netherlands: 40%, mainly Polish carriers

As you can see from the above these values rarely exceed more than half of all road transports between given countries. Countries that joined the Union after 2004 play a dominant role here. So where will industry and logistics move when the mobility package enters its current form?

Summary

It must also be taken into account that, the shortage among drivers across the Union is increasing. Transport demand exceeds supply, as indicated by statistics from various transport exchange operators. According to one of the Catalan news sites, deficiencies among drivers in Spain alone account for 15%, while the average age of drivers is 55. The situation is similar throughout the European Union. If we want to save the European economy from the crisis, we should focus on solutions that will strengthen the transport sector, which mean the entire economy. With a sick bloodstream, our heart will not beat for a long time.

Who will maintain extensive social systems if the production sector moves to other parts of the world, unable to meet the basic business needs, which is certainly transport?

Observing what attempts are being made to organise transport in the European Union, I get the impression that the greatest enemy of the European Union is not eurosceptics. At most, they can heat up anti-EU moods, but they have not gained decision-making impact after the spring election. The greatest threat are all the protectionist initiatives that hit the foundations the European Union was founded on.

If we want to avoid division within the EU, the West should allow companies from Eastern Europe to compete freely. If western countries do not give a chance to new members, everyone will lose, especially those who are afraid of this competition the most.

Will the history chapter of the European Union collapse, start with the mobility package in history textbooks? I wish all mobility package decision-makers’ names never appears in this chapter. On the other hand, I wish all Europeans a package that will not start the last chapter on the European Union. Transport should connect, not divide!

Source 1 Source: Eurostat (online data code: road_go_ta_tott)
Source 2 Source: Eurostat (online data code: road_go_ta_dc)

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