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Brussels, 26 March 2012

Vice-President Kallas remarks to Transport Committee on longer modular trucks

Chair, Dear Brian

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Many thanks for inviting me here today.

I would like to explain the Commission's position on the subject of cross-border use of longer, modular trucks. I understand that this issue is a sensitive one, and I would like to reassure you that I will strive to clarify any points which might appear unclear.

I want to start by placing the issue of longer trucks in a wider context. You will be aware that the Commission is in the process of a public consultation on changes to certain aspects of Directive 96/53 on weights and dimensions of road vehicles. In particular, I have been impressed by the arguments presented by both vehicle manufacturers and green NGOs, calling for the rules to facilitate aerodynamic streamlining of trucks. This would provide both significant improvements in fuel efficiency (with economic and environmental benefits) and contribute to road safety. Limited changes to the dimensions rules to permit 45-foot containers to be carried may also be appropriate given their increasing use in international trade. I expect to make final proposals for these amendments towards the end of the year.

The issue of longer trucks – the European Modular System to their friends, or gigaliners/megatrucks to their detractors – is clearly one which generates great emotion, and it is also one where all attempts to get an agreed factual basis for discussion have failed. Such trucks have been used successfully for many years to meet the needs of Sweden and Finland – helped by wide roads, low traffic and heavy forestry and minerals flows. But the needs, infrastructure and culture of other parts of Europe may be different. I do not see that we have to impose a single European approach – since the trucks are modular, free movement can be achieved simply by adding or subtracting modules. This is thus a proper – indeed perfect – case for the application of the subsidiarity rule, to allow Member States to decide based on local circumstances. The Commission will therefore not propose any amendment to Directive 96/53 to require general acceptance of longer trucks.

There is however one issue we do need to look at – that is the use of modular trucks between adjoining Member States which both permit their use domestically.

In a letter sent last month, I have been asked by an industry organisation, the International Road Transport Union whether the cross-border use of longer trucks is forbidden by the current Directive. This is a complex issue.

The wording of certain articles is confusing. It is clear that the Directive allows Member States to go beyond the maximum dimensions, and to allow longer trucks on their territories, in particular vehicles using the modular concept. But the wording of the Directive is less straightforward when it comes to the cross-border use of such vehicles between consenting Member States, and to the conditions attached. Let us be frank: previous attempts of the Commission to provide explanations have failed to bring the legal and complete clarity needed. It seems to me that forbidding vehicles using the modular concept to cross borders between consenting Member States contributes no environmental benefit (strictly, a modular truck could be driven to one side of the border, un-coupled and taken across the border in two parts, and then re-coupled to continue the journey), but simply adds inconvenience by creating artificial obstacles at borders.. Thus, in the light of the IRU letter, I decided to carry out a more detailed analysis together with the Commission services to clarify the legal position.

Their conclusion is that the directive does not prohibit the cross-border use of longer trucks provided a number of conditions are respected.

The response I therefore intend to give to the IRU is that not only can Member States allow the use of longer vehicles for national transport, they can also allow the cross-border use of such longer vehicles, but only on a number of conditions. The first is that both Member States concerned must already permit the use of these vehicles within their borders. No Member State will have to accept longer trucks on its territory if it does not wish to.

In addition, one of the several conditions must be met:

  • Both Member States must issue special permits allowing the use of longer trucks and granted in a non-discriminatory way (Art. 4(3) of the Directive);

  • the driver of a truck crossing the border and reaching the territory of a Member States allowing such type of vehicles must be able to prove that he will carry out a national transport operation in this Member State (Art. 4(4) of the Directive); or

  • the cross-border movement must be part of a trial that is local and limited in time (Art. 4(5) of the Directive).

In any case, the Member States involved must give their consent. I cannot stress this enough: the decision to allow or not to allow the use of longer vehicles, in cross-border transport or otherwise, remains up to individual Member States.

Finally I should underline that this is essentially a matter of legal interpretation – it is not a new policy decision by the Commission.

Chair, Honourable Members,

I hope that these explanations have answered some of your questions. I look forward to continuing the discussion in the rest of this exchange of views.

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