The EU Mobility Package will have an adverse effect on Maltese businesses due to the inevitable increases in freight costs if freight operations are to remain feasible,” according to Franco Azzopardi, Chairman and CEO of Express Trailers.
He claims that “the carriage of goods is the aorta, the artery of Malta’s survival because all we consume is imported. The spill over effect on people’s lives will be price hikes on all imported and exported products due to this increase in freight costs meaning a restraint and choke on any e-commerce initiative on the part of the retailer due to becoming uncompetitive on freight.”
“I am extremely sad, disappointed and outright angry at all this. My expectation was that the EU should not even have come up with such discriminatory initiatives and rules, especially now in these already very delicate economic times,” he added.
The EU Mobility Package adopted by the European Council on 7th April 2020 and approved by European Parliament on Monday 8th June, will see a major reform of the EU road transport sector that includes new rules claimed to improve drivers’ working conditions, to regulate governing access to the road haulage market and also to regulate maximum work and minimum rest times for drivers.
Franco Azzopardi explained how the EU mobility package will bring major disruption to its operations and costs, which, “needless to say will be passed on to the importer and exporter”.
“Every eight weeks, we will have to bring our trucks back to Malta for a week and then returned back to the continent. This means that every truck will be laying idle for six and a half weeks every year. To make good for this and to ensure our steady service, for every eight trucks we have on the continent, we will need to acquire another truck just to fill the gap of the dead time of the fleet. Why should we be forced to invest say, €500,000 to acquire five new trucks and incur depreciation and amortisation without any return on investment?”
“From where we stand this is a capriciously designed rule, camouflaged under an environmental excuse which in my view is complete nonsense. Miles will still have to be covered to carry cargo from exporter to importer. Difference is that now those miles will cost much more due to the amortisation of the cost of unproductive capital tied up the additional trucks that will give us no miles.”
“The new rules are claimed to supposedly improve working and social conditions for drivers and contribute to road safety. Truckers are now going to be prohibited from doing their weekly rest period of 45 hours in the truck which is their second home. Why impose such a prohibition?
Truckers find solace and pride in their truck cabin which they will never prefer to any hotel for just the weekend, every week they are on duty. And I can vouch for this having personally done a tour with a trucker which enlightened me to understand how truckers think and feel. The EU rule could have just given the right to the truckers to demand such a condition, not impose it on them and us.”
Mr Azzopardi mentioned how the EU wants transport companies to also send their drivers home every 4 weeks. “This is unsustainable, our truckers work on the road out of their own free will, are all well paid and should be free to work the length of tour they want. No authority should interfere unless the truckers are being exploited or unless there is scientifically proven health hazard.”
“It would be a pity if this package were an orchestration by the more influential countries to protect their companies from more competitive companies doing trucking operations on mainland Europe. I really can see no other reason for it having been put forward at EU level,” added Franco Azzopardi.
Mr Azzopardi referred to the rule of 'cabotage' which defines that in EU countries, trucking companies cannot do more than 3 operations in an EU country, within 7 days, and now without getting out of that country and 'cooling off' for 4 days.
“I feel this rule goes head-on against the EU principles of free movement and in Malta’s case, it is paralysing. Malta's size and that of its businesses make it near impossible to have less than three stops or pick-up points from a country. We already struggle to operate sustainably. What we do is, by specialising in 'groupage', we load and stack trailers as much as possible, with multiple units of cargo going to the same country regions for dropping off at different addresses so as to optimise tour efficiencies.”
“This ‘cabotage’ rule prohibits us from doing such multiple operations within 7 consecutive days in the same country because of the limitation of up to three operations, when we normally complete a whole tour with a multiple of operations in just a couple of days. In my view, this is nothing but protectionism of the territory hauliers and if you had to ask me, goes against the true spirit of the EU, at least the way I understand it to be.”
“I am not sure whether Maltese MEPs together with the transport and economy authorities fought this EU Mobility Package tooth and nail from the outset. Even if since recently, all the local MEPs whichever creed came out strong and united, the timing was wrong. To my knowledge, the EU does not function that way. We came out too late.”
In a rare show of national unity, Malta’s six MEPs – hailing from the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party – tabled a host of amendments in Parliament to the proposed mobility rules during the last transport committee meeting, however no amendment passed.
This year, Transport Minister Ian Borg attempted to take up the matter in the European Council. MaltaToday said it is informed that no agreement was reached, and EU Minister took none of Malta’s please for regard of its industry on board.