Two weeks after it was agreed that the new rule would take effect on March 1, the European Commission has been unable to put it into effect. The day after the news broke, Julia Reda, a German member of the European Parliament, accused the commission of “bottling it,” and undermining efforts to protect truck drivers and their vehicles from the virus. She wrote on Twitter that “investigations should continue and loopholes closed as soon as possible.”
Independent, expert reports across the union have all found this policy—and its lack of follow-up—to be a violation of the Hamburg Convention. A recent study by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) found that a full 90 percent of the truckers who contracted the virus transporting livestock had previously traveled to zones of concern in the EU.
Europe’s inability to impose a national ban on livestock movement within the region, and rely instead on vaccines and cross-border transport, has sparked a wave of protests that includes truckers clashing with police in eastern Croatia, and several protests from truckers and truck haulage companies in Austria, including a demonstration on Thursday in central Vienna. “There was some success in stopping for some time,” Alexander Plasse, the head of Austrian Trucking and Transport Association, told AP. “In these countries, food could now be kept frozen.”
In the northern Italian city of Treviso, locals marched to the city hall on Friday against mandatory limits on truck transport. Susie Bar, an Italian truck driver, called the decision to impose the mandatory limits in her hometown “disgraceful.” “Censorship,” she told AFP.
As Reuters reported on Tuesday, Spain, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania, and Britain have all implemented truckload limits since August. Some truckers feel there is no need for so-called “controlled movement” zones, and have taken the idea to court. In March, for example, two Spanish trucking associations went to court to challenge limits limiting the number of trucks that can move within the country. The case is ongoing.
A separate challenge was initiated by truckers of the European Transport Lobby, but those trucks, too, are in court for obstructing traffic.
On Friday, a study by trucking groups, the Danish think tank Center for Transitional Policy Studies, and Fidesz—the right-wing party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban—thwarted the plan.
In a 45-page report, they argued that it would make transporting consumer goods “incrementally more expensive in Europe” and would decrease supply. They argued for a system of temporary truck movement zones, but stopped short of a legal challenge. Fidesz, which launched the project, also disputed evidence that a linked package of measures to “lock in” a European approach to a vaccine-based remedy were necessary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the authors of the report was a member of the extreme right-wing government of Viktor Orban. Elsewhere, scientists and other experts have raised concerns over the industry’s involvement in the fight against the disease, and warned that it may divert funds from other more pressing priorities. Some financial analysts, meanwhile, have raised questions over the economics of producing vaccines. The WHO’s recent study found a strict national truckload rule could cost the EU economy $4.2 billion over five years.
In Europe, the European commission takes a tough stance on trucking standards and other vehicle emissions, which it often accuses of undermining environmental goals. Early this year, the agency hit Swiss truckers, who protested against the country’s transport policy, with fines and lost work hours for five days of protest.
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