Plans by the European Commission to allow oversized lorries – known as ‘megatrucks’ – on Europe’s roads through a ‘reinterpretation’ of existing legislation without formal discussion have run into a roadblock.
MEPs on the European Parliament’s transport committee last month attacked the transport commissioner Siim Kallas for attempting to rewrite EU law without consulting elected representatives. Legal advice obtained by T&E says there is no possible interpretation of existing legislation that would allow megatrucks to operate across national borders, and that only a full review could enable it. This view was confirmed by the legal services of the European and German parliaments.
The Commission is under a lot of pressure from the road haulage industry to allow 25-metre lorries weighing up to 60 tonnes to operate freely in Europe. Currently some countries (for example Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands) allow megatrucks, but until now the law has been seen as a clear ban on megatrucks crossing international borders. Lifting the ban would therefore open the way for megatrucks to be widely used across Europe.
The environmental movement is sceptical about the use of megatrucks, as they offer considerably cheaper road freight without any assurances that they will pay for the costs they cause. At the same time as the haulage industry would profit from their use, society in general would have to pay more to adapt infrastructure for the larger lorries, and to cover the increased costs of accidents, noise, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Safety, cyclists’ and pedestrians’ organisations also have serious concerns.
Kallas was given a fierce round of questioning by the EP’s transport committee. MEPs from across the political spectrum accused him of attempting to rewrite EU law without consulting elected representatives. He responded by saying that proposing new rules through the usual ‘co-decision’ process would have been ‘too emotional’ and would take too long, to which one MEP responded:
Legal advice sought by T&E and other interested parties last month made it clear no ‘reinterpretation’ to allow cross-border megatruck operations was plausible under existing legislation. The advice said:
‘It is clear from the text of the directive ... that derogations for vehicles exceeding the stated weights and dimensions maxima are restricted to national territories. There is nothing in the text that suggests otherwise ... A failure by the Commission to follow the ordinary legislative procedure would breach essential procedural requirements.’
T&E megatrucks officer William Todts said: ‘Allowing megatrucks to operate transnationally will open the floodgates to longer and heavier lorries becoming the norm across Europe. It’s the wrong idea. The Commission should enable more aerodynamic and safer cabs without increasing carrying capacity if it wants a smarter, safer, greener road transport industry. Unconditionally allowing megatrucks would have exactly the opposite effect.’
Asked by MEPs to clarify his position, Kallas said: ‘I need to think.’