[:en]The debate over the EU’s first tranche of mobility reforms raises doubts about the European Parliament’s stated public interests in the law and threatens to push the bloc to a two-speed transformation, leaving some of its poorest states behind.

The European Commission framed the first of its three packages of mobility policies as a push to reduce administrative burdens, make the industry more competitive and improve the social rights and working conditions of drivers. It thrust professional drivers from Central and Eastern Europe into the center stage, after their working conditions were described as “inhumane” by Mobility Package supporters who say drivers are “taken away from their families” and “do not receive decent remuneration.”

Conveniently, their “defense” has been taken over by a couple of Belgian transport syndicates and a French syndicate, comprising the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF). Yet most of the drivers whose problems this package is supposed to address are not members of these syndicates. That begs the question: Whose interests are they defending?

In fact, central and eastern European syndicates have not shown support for the package. That suggests they do not believe it addresses the actual problems facing their members.

This unbalanced support would not be so concerning if the measures were actually designed to improve working conditions for drivers across central and eastern countries. But analysis so far leads to a worrying conclusion: If the package is adopted in its current form, it will drastically worsen everyday life for drivers from the east and periphery countries.

The new rules would, for example, oblige drivers to travel for days, over thousands of empty kilometers, every three or four weeks, to return empty trucks to their country of origin in the periphery. That is tantamount to extraditing them.

Drivers will also have to be paid according to regulations in the country they are transiting, even if just for a few hours. This fails to take into account their average monthly income of around €2,300, which in some cases is nine to 10 times above the minimum wage in their home countries. Today, there is practically no pay gap between equal positions in different European countries, largely due to rapid economic growth, the free market and quality competition. We can therefore understand why central and eastern European transport workers and their syndicates might not support the ETF — they don’t want a reason to reduce their wages.

Raising more questions about the ETF’s influence in the European Parliament’s debate is the federation’s listing on the Transparency Register, as an in-house lobbyist. The ETF has received just over €1 million in European Commission financing for “several European projects” under the Commission’s employment and social affairs budgets. Information on the ETF’s funding and meetings with MEPs is far from transparent, and its case studies are similar to the Mobility Package reports.

In reality, drivers’ working conditions can be improved by developing a contemporary parking network along transport corridors, with controlled access to ensure safety and service facilities for all commercial vehicle operators. This would address concerns over resting conditions for drivers and keep transported goods safe.

The expected economic impacts of the package should also be taken into account. Namely: Carriers from eastern and periphery countries who are likely to pull out of the internal transport market, and an increase in transport service prices. Given that commodity prices all include transportation costs, this will lead to increases across the commodities market — at the expense of European consumers.

Contradictory voting by certain MEPs on the Mobility Package also raises questions. The driving force behind the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) majority vote in favor of requiring empty trucks to return to their state of registration remains puzzling. This will lead to numerous empty runs around the EU, which will drastically increase carbon dioxide emissions. The European commercial road transport sector is one of the bloc’s largest CO2 emitters, and is working to decrease its footprint with new engine technologies. The Greens/EFA’s premature support of the Mobility Package deviates from the party’s environmental positions.

Looking further into the legislative procedure and the equal application of core EU principles in all members, the Parliament’s first vote in favor of the Mobility Package signals a sharp and intentional shift in EU transport policy, the reevaluation of fundamental European values, and the transition of people from peripheral countries toward French President Emmanuel Macron’s multi-speed Europe.

The EU’s current road transport policy removes “all restrictions” on a transport services provider working in another country. This is aimed at guaranteeing a smooth liberalization of the internal market. But, it seems, the goals are being changed and the policy shifted, with no clear reason.

Was the so-far consistent approach wrong? If so, why? Why does the new approach violate the freedom to provide services in the internal market?

The notion of businesses being bound by their country of origin, and therefore denied full access to the single European market, is dangerous. Through the Mobility Package, European lawmakers are artificially making one EU state more attractive for investment and business development than another. This imposes a further restriction on the freedom to provide services, especially to the disadvantage of carriers in periphery countries. And such disproportionate legislation conflicts with the foundational contract each state signed upon joining the EU.

New members are right to see the Mobility Package in its current form as a threat to the essence of their membership. It would turn them into second- or third-tier members.

Finally, the Mobility Package’s added administrative burden could force the displacement of whole economic sectors and their workers from peripheral countries to western Europe. Eastern Europe, which has an established, well-developed transport sector, would lose hundreds of thousands of professional drivers and their families as they migrate west in search of jobs that no longer exist at home. These negative effects have not been taken into account in the Mobility Package discussions, but they can’t be ignored.

Numerous issues have been raised but not addressed in the Commission’s impact assessment. New text proposals, such as the rule on returning empty trucks to their country of registration, and the Parliament’s substantial amendment of existing measures, have not undergone impact assessment. Without a doubt, the results of such a study would differ from the Commission’s. It would clarify the amendments and, most importantly, shed transparency over the reasons behind MEPs’ decisions and actions on the first Mobility Package.

If MEPs want to remain credible in the eyes of voters, and support the bloc’s integration, they must approach EU citizens with open and transparent decision-making.

Madlen Kavrukova, J.S.D Legal Advisor