Commission reinterpretation on megatrucks is ‘undemocratic’ and ‘creates confusion’

EU rules governing the length and weight of lorries have been thrown into confusion by a unilateral ‘reinterpretation’ of an EU directive by the transport commissioner Siim Kallas. The commissioner’s move appears to abandon all length limits and opens the way for so-called ‘megatrucks’. A senior MEP has rejected the commissioner’s ‘reinterpretation’ and says the European Parliament is likely to challenge the decision, while T&E has described it as ‘undemocratic, confusing and incomprehensible’.
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Existing rules – set out in directive 96/53 – limit EU lorries to 40 tonnes and 18.75 metres. In some countries the use of ‘megatrucks’ (up to 60 tonnes, and 25 metres in length) has already been allowed, but under the directive, these are illegal if they cross national borders. Sweden has been testing even larger lorries – up to 90 tonnes in weight and 32 metres in length – and Denmark appears ready to embrace these extra-large lorries too.

Rumours that Kallas was on the point of ‘reinterpreting’ directive 96/53 circulated in February. An angry reaction from MEPs and NGOs caused the commissioner to abandon his announcement. But earlier this month he wrote to the chair of the European Parliament’s transport committee, Brian Simpson, saying neighbouring states can draw up their own agreements regarding cross-border use of vehicles that are longer than current EU limits. This change reverses the Commission’s position held since the directive was originally agreed in the mid-1990s.

Simpson rejected the commissioner’s ‘re-interpretation’. ‘I believe Parliament will take the view that your decision is challengeable both politically and in law,’ he wrote to Kallas. Simpson disputes the Commission’s right to unilaterally reinterpret EU legislation and has now asked Martin Schultz, the European Parliament’s president, to fight for MEPs to be allowed to influence this matter.

The timing of the ‘reinterpretation’ is strange, as Kallas had earlier announced his intention to review the law on lorry weights and dimensions later this year. In the letter explaining the reinterpretation, Kallas invites the European Parliament to make further changes to the law during that review. Another strange aspect of the ‘reinterpretation’ is that it applies to the length of vehicle combinations but not to their weight. This means the weight limit for international transport remains fixed at 40 tonnes, while megatrucks typically weigh 60 tonnes.

T&E lorries officer William Todts said: ‘Kallas u’turn is really very confusing. Operators are told by Kallas that they can start crossing borders with longer lorries but in six months when the Parliament has its say, the rules may completely change again. That’s the opposite of better regulation. And earlier this year, Kallas said that asking hauliers to uncouple at the border would be ridiculous. Now he appears to be telling them that they should throw 20 tonnes of goods out at the border. That’s hardly an improvement.

‘The commissioner’s move has thrown transport policy into confusion. It has by-passed the democratic process and led to a battle with the Parliament, it has breached trust with stakeholders, and it creates lasting uncertainty for operators. It’s incomprehensible.’