‘I hope good sense prevails’, says Franco Azzopardi on Malta CJEU case against EU Mobility Package

Franco Azzopardi CEO Express Group

Express Trailers CEO Franco Azzopardi is hopeful that the Maltese case in front of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) against the EU’s Mobility Package 1 will see “good sense prevail”.

Mr Azzopardi, speaking to WhosWho.mt, confirmed that the industry is in contact with senior Government officials, and acknowledged the “immediate action and engagement to make Malta’s particular case heard”.

“We also confirm that we shall participate in discussions and the case to make sure the interests of the industry and of the Maltese populace are protected, whenever we shall be invited to do so.”

The case relates to certain provisions in the Package that will see trucks needing to return to their operators’ country of establishment and operators having to pay for truckers’ accommodation for two days every week.

In an interview conducted in June, Mr Azzopardi had called these rules “capriciously designed”, and expressed concern that freight costs to Malta will inevitably rise by six to 10 per cent following their introduction. Other countries on the periphery of the EU, like Cyprus, share similar concerns.

Asked whether these increases are already being effected, Mr Azzopardi clarified that certain elements of the Package, including those making part of the court case instituted by the Maltese Government, will come into force in 2022, unless the CJEU rules otherwise.

“We would like to avoid passing on any additional costs and avoid them in the first place, which is why we support the annulment action.”

Asked whether the company is considering changing their trucks’ country of registration to avoid the extra burdens imposed by the regulations, Mr Azzopardi said this was still under consideration, “even if the interpretation of the proposed drafting of the Mobility Package does not speak of where the trucks are registered but where the operation is established”.

The conversation turns to the rule that drivers must be given accommodation paid by the employer. While obviously increasing costs that will be passed on to consumers, isn’t this an acceptable price to pay for the increased comfort and dignity of drivers?

Mr Azzopardi is skeptical, noting that there is no empirical research into the matter.

“I think this is a question that needs to be asked to professional truckers. There is no empirical research about this, and hence this measure can possibly not even be welcomed by the truckers themselves.”

There is a history of controversy related to such rules. In 2018, the Lithuanian Association of Road Carriers Linava offered a night in a truck cabin for tourists to highlight its comfort. The Association pointed to the lack of guarded car parks around Europe, saying that truckers are presented with an impossible choice: to follow the rules, they must risk their cargo.

That might be why Mr Azzopardi is explicit in his proposed approach – “Ask the truckers.”

The accountant-turned-executive confirms that Express Trailers had been in contact with the Maltese Government prior to the filing of the appeal.

Asked whether he is at all hopeful for the outcome, Mr Azzopardi says, “If Brussels really has a compelling and winning case in favour of the Mobility Package, then I am hopeful that someone can enlighten me that it is actually designed to respect the free movement of cargo and people, to prohibit protectionism, and to contribute to the Green Deal. That is what I am hopeful for.”

“Otherwise, I hope that good sense and spirit will prevail and they become more sensitive to our membership, our economy, and our geographical realities.”

Express Trailers said they will continue following the latest developments with interest, stressing that “any decision will be taken in the best interest of our clients, the Maltese economy and the company.”

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