On 24th March, ECG held its Annual Dinner Debate, hosted by MEP Wim van de Camp (EPP, NL), EPP Co-ordinator in the Transport Committee. The event was opened by ECG President Costantino Baldissara who welcomed the participants, introduced the speakers and then presented ECG.

MEP Wim van de Camp noted in his keynote speech that there are 27 countries in the EPP group, all with different transport interests and TEN-T corridors, so it is a challenge to get the EPP group in one political line.

He then turned to the mid-term review of the 2011 White Paper, saying he will take a pragmatic approach in his report and is open to suggestions for amendments. He discussed elements of his working document on this file, noting that modal shift has not been completely accomplished. He referred to the co-modality and multi-modality approach, with more investment in rail and inland waterways. The road sector has been successful here, but rail and inland waterways are behind. He does not agree with punishing road; rail and inland waterways should rather be promoted. Secondly, on ITS and e-documentation he noted complaints about the enormous load of paperwork in transport. Thirdly, he mentioned the development and maintenance of European infrastructure.

On the Weights and Dimensions dossier, he mentioned the loaded truck length campaign by ECG and said that legislators had not been able to solve this problem. He encouraged attendees to take the opportunity of the review clause agreed within the new directive on Weights and Dimensions to continue lobbying. He also mentioned the Road Package to be delivered in spring 2016. He emphasised that the start for any lobbying should be the national governments, especially on sensitive issues like Weights and Dimensions.

Jörg Mosolf, CEO of MOSOLF Group discussed the ECG campaign for harmonisation of loaded lengths for car transporters, showing a map with a patchwork of national regulations of allowed loaded lengths for car transporters across the EU today. He highlighted that the legal dimensions are not so clear and there are variations across the EU. He advocated that all should be at least 20.75m. He turned to combined transport and finished vehicle logistics (FVL), referring to Directive 92/106 EC allowing Member States to offer fiscal and financial incentives. The Commission is assessing whether this should be updated or removed from the rulebook. ECG was involved through a DG MOVE stakeholder workshop and consultation and their objective is to introduce FVL into the current definition of combined transport as a category of loading unit.

He was then speaking about the German minimum wage law, introduced on 1st January 2015, with no notice and all details published in German. He said this causes panic and chaos in road transport and the legality and proportionality are questionable and are being challenged in Brussels, including by German MEPs. He emphasised that people do not know what is right and wrong in this case.

Jon Kuiper, CEO of Koopman Logistics Group, highlighted that the challenge is to compete on a European basis in a landscape of national laws. He discussed social dumping/unfair competition, referring to some drivers being paid €300-400 per month while away from home. These services are delivered on a European basis, yet there is no principle of “same job same wage”. He said that employers seek the edges of the labour market and there is no level playing field in the EU. He argued that the German minimum wage increases competition, France also has new ideas and there is minimum wage in Norway. Referring to the rules since the EU enlargement in 2004, there has been no enforcement, the penalties differ significantly and there are different interpretations of driving/rest hours. He stated that the automotive business is European and he advocated harmonised European legislation, with a clear vision: no social dumping, with fair and consistent enforcement. He encouraged EU institutions to be mindful of national initiatives but he said companies need European law on this, because they act in a European world by definition. He referred to the White Paper working document and the reference to a need for quality jobs: he said the EU needs social standards and by doing so, moral standards will be set. Overall, he said the EU needs a vision on quality jobs and social standards and this needs a European legislation/approach.

On the point of increasing bureaucracy, again he referred to different national legislation, as well as increased administrative burden for businesses, for example, with the German minimum wage. He also mentioned different toll systems and said that a European approach based on the latest digital technology is required. Regarding a level playing field, he mentioned non-transparency in harbour costs and the significant differences in tariffs to automotive manufacturers.

Conclusively, the following is needed: harmonised European legislation to prevent inconsistent national initiatives, with a clear vision: unfair competition, fair and consistent enforcement, less bureaucracy through digitalisation and transparency in harbour costs. 

MEP Wim van de Camp noted that the German minimum wage is progress as such – the EU wants every country to have this and the EPP Group is in favour of a minimum wage. But this presents problems in transit traffic and the question is how to handle this in practice. On the German “Maut” he said that no-one in the EU is in favour of one integrated European toll system because taxes are a national competence. He agreed that ITS can make this simpler. He also said they should not let the Maut go to private cars as this will have a negative influence on tourism and shopping.

The MEP noted more talk of social mobility and, while the internal market is growing, they cannot wait 20-30 years for a solution. The EPP group is available to deal with this social problem. He cautioned against a “cold nationalistic wind in Europe” which affects the working of the internal market. Otherwise the EU will go back to 28 individual countries and warned that the Chinese do not wait for 28 Member States. He called Europe a very rich part of the world, as it seems to have time to talk while the Chinese take over the market.

Michael Nielsen, IRU raised his concern about the mushrooming of barriers to road transport in the EU, but he said the solution is not easy and is not just about social dialogue. He said that 22 Member States have the minimum wage today. But he asked how this can apply to highly mobile jobs such as those in transport. The IRU does not even see a joint solution between its members at the moment, but if the EU institutions do not move, he fears things will go back to pre-1992 without the internal market.

Sandro Santamato, Head of Unit Maritime Transport & Logistics (DG MOVE) emphasised in his speech that the Commission sees logistics as a key driver for the EU economy. He outlined some facts: the EU is the largest exporter of manufactured goods and practices, the EU accounts for 19% of world exports and imports, 6 Member States are in the top 10 global logistics performers, top global logistics service providers are in the EU, and logistics costs account for 10-15% of finished product costs. He then explained that five of the ten Commission priorities cover transport and logistics: investment for growth and jobs; connected digital single market; a resilient energy union with forward looking climate change policy; a deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base and a stronger global actor (international aspects). The challenges for logistics are to stay competitive in a globalised economy, face the complexity of supply chains (which requires efficiency and reliability of logistics), changing societies (rising customer expectations), limited resources (especially maintaining infrastructure), sustainable and environmental impacts, and a shift in centres of global economic gravity. He also outlined the following obstacles in the sector: a non-completed internal market, administrative and regular requirements, especially customs procedures, availability and quality of transport infrastructure and services, and the slow uptake of innovation (e.g. ICT). In terms of the Commission’s role, he said that logistics is the task of industry, for which the Commission can set an appropriate policy framework. He said that transport and logistics need a system and integrated policy approach. He then outlined the Commission’s intent to set up a Digital Transport and Logistics Forum which will aim to make logistics more efficient.

DG MOVE’s Pawel Stelmaszczyk commented that when he joined the Commission and worked on logistics, there were comments that the Commission’s concerning policies were total a failure and by this he singled out Marco Polo and Motorways of the Sea. The former is no longer around, but the Commission has a strong policy for freight services. He wanted to hear from industry about the legacy of Marco Polo and how the Commission has taken into consideration their inputs to incentivise the reduction of GHG emissions in freight and how they view services in ports as the entry points for logistics. Also, given that most cargo arrives in the EU market by maritime transport, how does the efficiency of in-port services compare today to 2009, that is: how much progress has been made and is it in the right direction?

Michael Nielsen, IRU commented on the forced modal shift policy, which has led to a 3% decrease in rail freight transport in the EU over the last 12 years. He did not mean that the IRU is against all modes, as they are all needed to meet future demand. He argued that road transport is not allowed to become more efficient because it would take a few containers off trains. He said there is a lot more to do and a forced modal shift is not the right way.

Journalist, Claude Yvens noted the discrepancy between the single market and international regulations. He works in Benelux where there is traffic for eco-combis as well as a common initiative about a minimum wage between these three countries. He thus asked MEPs and the Commission: are they perhaps looking forward to some aspects of the single market being built from scratch by a smaller number of countries, such as Benelux, France and Germany.

MEP Wim van de Camp commented on the progress in the EU and said he was not in favour of “many velocities” in the EU, reiterating that China is not waiting for individual Member States. On co-operation between Member States, he said that they need to fight the new equilibrium between regional approaches and 28 Member States. A lot is invested in agreements among 28 Member States but the result is too vague with too many compromises. He said: “let’s take up the challenge of Benelux” but they cannot underestimate the differences between peoples within the wider EU. 

Mark Adriansens, Managing Director of International Car Operators (ICO – active in the Ports of Zeebrugge and Antwerp) commented on the Belgian situation, which is in the middle of a fine from Europe. The cause is the pool system of dockworkers and a lack of freedom to use people by the port operators. This is due to the fact that workers are unionised in Belgium and he said this needs to change. After receiving the Commission's ruling the system might need to change and Belgium will only have 2 months’ time to enact laws on this. He said during crisis time, it would be easier to optimise labour needs and there is no social backlog. He then referred to dock labour in the full area of a port and said he would prefer a difference between the type of work; that is, loading and discharging is dock labour and everything else is not dock labour and so there can be work on the terminal by any type of workers. Finally, he mentioned differences between several ports and said they should look at total logistics; that is, the service from ship to the delivery of a car.

Nik Delmeire, Secretary General of ESC, asked Mr Santamato about the figure of logistics being 10-15% of the price of the finished product, asking for the study on this. He had the figure of 8-10% in mind. Secondly, he was surprised about the mentioned Digital Transport and Logistics Forum, because a lot of EU projects are about this and it sounds like they are starting all over again.

Sandro Santamato (DG MOVE) said the figures are from a study which should be published soon. The percentage of costs of logistics and how much they represent in terms of GDP are different concepts. He also noted that a lot of logistics are done in-house and this could account for the difference. Secondly, on the Forum, he said they will not start from scratch and the idea is to move from possible initiatives which translate projects to something more concrete. The Commission would like to discuss with industry and Member States whether this type of initiative could be legislative or a standardisation type and they will use the information collected through projects to see if it can be applied at a wider level.

Costantino Baldissara (ECG President) gave his final remarks at the end of the dinner and noted that this is the 4th Dinner Debate ECG has held. He felt that the main difference between this event and former ones is that this is the first time they did not hear from an MEP saying there are good ideas, but the Commission is not performing well. They also did not hear the Commission say that the “Parliament will not vote for us”. So the co-operation between both institutions seems to have developed positively under the new mandates since the 2014 elections. Mr. Baldissara stated that as a businessman who is coming from the “real world” he does not necessarily understand the political environment but nonetheless felt they “are in good hands”. He also thanked Mr Santamato for his short but effective presentation and noted that the Commission responded to “real world” industry problems. He hoped that this Commission could perform at a high speed to reach its targets.

MEP Wim van de Camp felt that this debate had raised the practical problems to solve in the short term. He said that the time for “free speech” in the EU is finished and now they need to speed up decision making and be more practical. He believed that relations between the Parliament and Commission are now more practical and less ideological. He referred to better regulation and better implementation, for example, the need to complete the 4th Railway Package. He reminded the Commission that the optimum can be the enemy of the maximum, and when solving a crisis, it is better to go for the maximum. Conclusively, he said “let’s have a level playing field in a real way and let’s be practical and keep it simple, but in a faster way.”

ECG wishes to thank Natalie Windle from Dods Monitoring for the summary of the event.