The European economic climate is exerting pressure on policymakers in Brussels and across the continent. The vehicle logistics industry must be united for its voice to be heard, writes the ECG's President.

The ECG has worked diligently to increase its influence in Brussels. The dual role it plays – as an educator of policymakers about the vehicle logistics sector and as the eyes and ears of our members in the home of the European institutions – is even more critical in the current climate.

Even without the recession, this has been a particularly formative time for transport policy. The publication of the White Paper on Transport last year set the stage for debate on issues ranging from urban deliveries to multimodal logistics.

But economic crises can also drive regulatory change, and we must be alert to the challenges that may arise as economic considerations pile pressure on policymakers.

Commission vs. Parliament
As we convene for our annual conference – which is in Prague October 11-12 – ECG is focusing on two critical issues.

The first is the hoary question of weights and dimensions, where we have long argued that the allowable loaded length for vehicle transporters should be harmonised to at least 20.75 metres, removing the inconsistencies that derive from the confusing patchwork of national limits currently in Europe.

We believe that our case is making progress. In spring 2012, European Commission vice-president and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas reinterpreted the directive covering weights and dimensions to permit the cross-border use of longer modular trucks (defined by their maximum length of 25.25 metres) between consenting member states, effectively reversing his previous approach to the issue.

The Parliament, however, objected that Kallas could not rule unilaterally on existing law but must respect its right of ‘co-decision’ by including the cross-border aspect in its formal review of the directive, expected by the end of the year.

In a letter to the Parliament president Martin Schulz this August, however, José Manuel Barroso, EC president, appeared to back Kallas’s view on the essential cross-border uses issue. We’re keeping a careful watch on the progress of this issue.

Nein standard trucks
If the long-running issue of weights and dimensions is a hardy perennial for our members, we are also addressing new threats to the sustainability of the sector.

In recent months, for instance, the German customs authorities have been stopping car transporters crossing into Germany for using ‘non-standard’ fuel tanks. They argue that tanks installed by the specialised manufacturer who converted the original truck fall outside the law because, according to their interpretation, it is not an OEM.

The German authorities contend that, under EU tax law, these transporters are importing fuel into Germany for commercial purposes, and are liable for taxes on those ‘imports’ and a potentially heavy fine for ‘tax-avoidance’.

What is more, they appear to have put together a blacklist of companies whose trucks have been stopped, taxed and fined over recent months, and are now targeting all trucks from those companies. And their reach is spreading. Initial reports from members suggested that only non-German companies were being hit under this new interpretation. This is no longer the case: we are now aware of instances of German-registered trucks also being stopped.

ECG is straining every sinew to change the approach of the German authorities, which not only adds excessive costs but also contradicts the spirit of the single European market.

Unfortunately, the EC confirmed to the ECG in August that the German authorities are within their legal rights to take this view and that the EC has limited powers to intervene. We will contact the German authorities directly to discuss the issue, whether through an approach to the German Permanent Representation to the EU, or via German members of ECG. We are also eager to work with the German vehicle logistics association, AML, in a joint approach to this issue.

A new EU Energy Taxation Directive, including a satisfactory definition of ‘standard fuel tanks’, is now in the works, though it remains unclear when the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers will approve it. In the meantime, some members are working with the OEMs of the original trucks to have the latter add these fuel tanks to their approved list of standard tanks. It remains to be seen how the German authorities will respond to this initiative.

We are considering tougher responses, which could include submitting a formal complaint to the Commission or going the European Parliament via a parliamentary question to which the Commission would be obliged to reply. On this, as on other critical issues, ECG will continue to fight the good fight for its members