In the Transport Committee of the European Parliament this week, EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas presented the highly charged legislative proposal on the maximum permissible dimensions and weights not only for heavy goods vehicles but also for busses. The proposal had been preceded by fierce criticism of Kallas, who intended to permit the cross-border use of so-called mega trucks – HGVs weighing up to 60 tons and being up to 25.25 metres long – single-handedly and quasi overnight. However, looking at the now presented Directive proposal, the Commission appears to backpaddle – but only at first glance as the risk to road safety, other road users and the environment still exist.
As already reported by AK EUROPA on several occasions, EU Transport Commissioner Kallas came under massive pressure, when he informed the public that based on a new interpretation of the existing legislation, cross-border transport with mega trucks with a weight of up to 60 tons was to be possible with immediate effect. A number of non-governmental organisations, labour representations as well as the European Parliament condemned the move, and at least achieved partial success: mega truck dimensions are now specified in the legislative proposal. This gives the Council and the European Parliament the chance to have their say on dimensions within the scope of the legislative procedure. Transport Commissioner Kallas also had to drop his intention, which can hardly be described as being democratic, to take the decision on introducing mega trucks all by himself.

Also interesting is the circumstance that the latest Commission proposal does not mention an increase of the weight limit to 60 tons (currently 40 tons) resp. a length of 25.25 metres (currently 18.75 metres). The Commission is now focussing its efforts on adjusting the dimensions to containers, which are used in intercontinental maritime transport and require increasing the length of HGVs by 15 cm. It shall be possible to adjust the dimensions during the course of introducing aerodynamic driver cabins. As regards the maximum volume, the Commission is now proposing only 44 tons. An additional weight of 1 ton shall be permitted for alternative drive systems with hybrid or electric motors. An increase of the permitted weight by 1 ton is also planned for busses. The weight of passengers and their baggage had increased over the past years, a fact which, according to the Commission, had to be taken into account.

However, according to the EU Transport Commissioner, at the centre of the new Directive proposal is the introduction of more environmentally friendly heavy goods vehicles. Aerodynamic driver cabins shall significantly reduce pollutant emissions and increase the safety of drivers and other road users by crumple zones and concepts to avoid blind angles. What is also positive is the fact that the Commission would like to introduce a new weighing system for HGVs to gain control of the current common practice to overload heavy goods vehicles.

All MEPs reacted positively to the proposal of the Commission to make heavy goods vehicles more environmentally friendly and to increase their safety. However, the Green EU representative Eva Lichtenberger addressed an important issue concerning the proposal: there was no obligation to produce or buy such heavy goods vehicles in future – transitional periods for this new generation of HGVs had not been provided. Sensible companies could purchase similar HGVs even now, said Lichtenberger. Hence, this part of the Commission proposals reveals itself to be pure eco waffle without any obligation.

With regard to the other part of the proposal concerning larger HGVs, some MEPs voiced considerable criticism. The Speaker of the European People’s Party, Mathieu Grosch, did not join the critics; however, he made clear that his faction was not united in their opinion on the dossier. Said El Khadraoui of the Social Democrats explained that his party was opposed to the cross-border use of mega trucks because this would represent a competitive advantage of road over rail. The Greens also subscribed to this opinion. El Khadraoui also questioned why no separate toll had been planned for larger vehicles. MEP Jacqueline Foster of the European Conservatives saw a safety problem, in particular for Great Britain as one would drive on the left, the steering wheel, however, was on the right, which would restrict the range of vision. However, the comments of the Liberal Gesine Meissner were very positive: in her opinion, only two instead of three heavy goods vehicles had to be on the road in future, which would have a positive impact on the environment. She did, however, fail to explain how she reached this conclusion.

What is clearly demonstrated is the fact that the Commission, due to the great pressure by civil society and European Parliament, would have to make significant concessions. 60-ton heavy goods vehicles are no longer mentioned. However, anybody who knows the Commission also knows that the danger is not over yet. If neither the Council nor the European Parliament provide for a higher volume or longer heavy goods vehicles, the Commission might be tempted to go back to its favoured salami tactics: the adoption of the new Directive could soon be followed by a new proposal, which provides for a further increase in tonnage and length. It will repeat this game until it has achieved its ultimate goal – 60 tons and 25.25 m length as well as using these vehicles throughout the entire European Union. However, this would be associated with high costs for both economy and society – the infrastructure would have to be adjusted at significant cost, road safety would be impacted, the road traffic volume would continue to increase and the - compared to heavy goods vehicles - the significantly more environmentally friendly rail as means of transport would be further pushed into the background.

It will probably not become clear before autumn which position the European Parliament will adopt on mega trucks. A number of non-governmental organisations and labour representations, AK EUROPA among them, will continue to exert pressure to prevent the introduction of cross-border operating mega trucks.