This article is part of POLITICO’s Changemakers series, looking at the players driving European policy.
It’s crunch time for the Mobility Package.
The controversial batch of reforms to EU trucker rules finally got the European Parliament’s approval in September to start trilogue talks, after over two years of hot debate. Parliament, Council and Commission representatives met for a first session earlier this month; the next meetings, scheduled for late October and November, will be crucial in shaping the final deal.
The package has pitted countries in the bloc’s west, which want to put a stop to what they consider a “race to the bottom” caused by trucking businesses from Central Europe, against eastern members, which consider the measures protectionist.
The positions of Parliament and Council are not very far apart, but there’s enormous pressure on the shape of the final deal. The package’s advocates don’t want it watered down, while opponents are fighting a rear-guard action to kill off parts they find unacceptable.
The polarized debate leaves a disparate group of countries floating in the middle. Members like Slovakia, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, but also Ireland, back a reform of truckers’ rights, but also advocate a strong internal market. That could make this loose alliance of countries a good mediator between the two camps.
Here are five people whose influence could prove instrumental in clinching an agreement:
Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, French transport secretary
It was French President Emmanuel Macron who put the Mobility Package on the map. Now it’s up to the newly appointed Transport Secretary Jean-Baptiste Djebbari to finish his work.
The package of trucker rules came to be known as the “Macron law” in countries opposed to the reforms, after the French president introduced national trucker rules and kicked the debate into a higher gear with the backing of a nine-country strong Road Alliance. Djebbari and his colleagues may be looking to leverage the combined weight of that alliance in the final stages of the debate.
Opponents of the package will argue there’s no need for interference, as the Council and Parliament texts already lean in France’s direction. But Djebbari assured his country’s trucker industry earlier this month he was “determined” to move the debate toward a deal.
“It’s obviously a file on which France wants to strongly advance,” he said, adding it was a “political obligation” to show that Europe “protects France and its workers.”
Maciej Wroński, president of Polish logistics association TLP
Maciej Wroński has much to lose if the Mobility Package takes effect.
As the president of TLP, the Polish transport and logistics employers’ association, he represents about 70 companies that could see profits fall if their foreign operations are restricted. That will hit Poland where it hurts: According to the association, the transport sector has grown to be one of the country’s most important sectors, generating about 6.6 percent of GDP and employing about 1 million people.
Wroński says the package is set to undermine the internal market that new EU members embraced when they joined the bloc and built their business models around. “Everything was okay as long as the four [economic] freedoms were largely to the benefit of the Western businesses,” he told MEPs at an event in Parliament in September. “Competition is like a … bitter pill you have to swallow. Maybe it’s not very tasty, but it does make us healthier.”
Wroński won’t be sitting at the table as lawmakers debate a compromise deal. But if Polish attachés and MEPs fight for more leeway in the final text, it’ll be for the benefit of Wroński and his industry. If the package comes into force Poland will need time to “abandon the industry,” Wroński said at the event. “What will happen to our drivers’ jobs … that will not be our problem, that will be your problem.”
Ismail Ertug, MEP, Socialists & Democrats, Germany
Ismail Ertug is the rapporteur on one of the three files in the Mobility Package and now a vice president of the S&D group in Parliament.
Newly appointed Finnish MEP Henna Virkkunen, the rapporteur on driving and rest times, and the Czech Republic’s Kateřina Konečná, in charge of posting, have had very little time to prepare for the negotiations ahead. But, Ertug, a returning rapporteur for the cabotage file, is a “dinosaur” who knows the ins and outs of the package, one EU official said.
A German national, Ertug represents a country that has come out strongly against social dumping in the trucking sector. “The drivers are driving two to three months without going home, without seeing their families … with such conditions, no one would like to do this job,” Ertug said in an interview.
That calls for urgent adoption of the package. “The people out there, the companies, the drivers, and yes … the member states, they are all waiting for a solution,” he said.
Rosen Zhelyazkov, Bulgaria’s transport minister
As the EU’s poorest state, Bulgaria needs to pick and choose its policy battles in Brussels. It’s going all in on the Mobility Package, with Transport Minister Rosen Zhelyazkov arguing the reform plans are “unfair, disproportionate and discriminatory” to truckers from his part of the bloc.
He’s failed so far to block the package, but that doesn’t mean all is lost. Zhelyazkov is moving to steer a coalition including Romania, Poland, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania to scupper the proposals if at all possible as they head into final inter-institutional talks.
Zhelyazkov’s predecessor Ivaylo Moskovski threatened to walk out of Council talks during Bulgaria’s 2018 presidency if the European Commission’s proposals passed as they were.
Joachim Drees, CEO of truckmaker MAN
The debate over labor standards could become redundant if trucker platooning technology becomes widely accepted. That allows trucks to drive in a convoy along highways with only the lead vehicle manned. “Platooning is an important step for us on the way to automation,” said Joachim Drees, the boss of Munich-based truck maker MAN, after the results of a trial were published in May. Enter the robot, exit the wage-earning, nap-taking human.
MAN tested its truck technology over 35,000 kilometers on Bavaria’s A9 highway. Trucks were separated by gaps of only 15 meters, boosting fuel savings. It said the driver only needed to intervene once every 2,000 kilometers, illustrating that the technology isn’t far from being ready. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association thinks platooning trucks will be ready as soon as the early 2020s.
Of course, one intervention every 2,000 kilometers is still a huge margin of error as far as public perception is concerned — and regulators are unlikely to greenlight driverless trucks on Europe’s highways anytime soon. But the debate over how to regulate trucking is intertwined with the industry’s long-term outlook. That includes the potential for companies like MAN to shape the debate with a sideways look.