The European Commission is expected to propose changes to employment law for truck drivers and rules on road tolls in May. Czech Transport Minister Dan Ťok suggested a compromise and said he isn’t ready to challenge Germany’s controversial road toll bill.
Dan Ťok serves as transport minister for the Czech Republic.
Ťok spoke to euractiv.com’s Catherine Stupp.
There has been a lot of disagreement between western EU countries and some of the eastern member states about whether the posting of workers directive should apply to the road transport sector. Do you think there is a need for a change to EU law to clarify whether, or how, posting of workers rules applies to truck drivers?
Our original position is that there is no change needed. I think we should not overregulate Europe. On the other hand, I do agree that there are problems which need to be dealt with and resolved. If we have no other choice than to revise this directive, we should do it in a way which will not build a new curtain between eastern and western parts of Europe. We need to do things that are reasonable and help the situation, not build new barriers.
The European Commission has already said it will propose some changes next month. What kind of legal revisions would you find reasonable?
What might be acceptable to us would be if we agree that there is fairer competition and the same conditions for everyone. If we agree that symptoms like letterbox companies or nomad driving are something that should be applicable. On the other hand, we don’t think that we should regulate cabotage [the EU law regulating how many days truck drivers can spend and how many trips they can make in other member states and still pay social contributions in their home country] much more.
All regulation of cabotage must be reasonable and we do not think that the principles of this directive should also be valid for transit. Transit has nothing to do with the country. Also if you have a driver who is bringing goods to a port and turning back, it is reasonable that he will not drive an empty truck, he will carry out some other services that are under the cabotage principles. For them, applying minimum wages do not make sense either.
[The European Commission has infringement cases open against France and Germany for applying minimum wage laws to truck drivers from other EU countries while they were in transit.]
Eleven western EU countries signed a declaration in Paris last month arguing for stricter laws on low-wage transport workers. Will there be any response from countries opposing legal change?
My feeling is that the response will come through the debate about the road package among ministers for transport from EU countries. I am talking about some of these things with my colleagues, for example with [German Transport] Minister Dobrindt or Austrian Minister Leichtfried, and I have a feeling that I can agree with part of this declaration from Paris. Some of it is up for debate and we should provide this debate now.
Violeta Bulc [the EU Transport Commissioner] is also expected to propose an overhaul of road toll law next month. The Commission has often said it wants to incentivise distance-based road toll systems for environmental reasons. The Czech Republic is one of eight countries with time-based vignettes that charge by day for passenger cars. Should there eventually be a switch to distance-based toll systems?
The question is whether this is reasonable or not. First, a time-based system is much more simple and more cost-effective for the country. My feeling is that to have the charges according to how you drive seems to be more reasonable, but countries spend a big part of what they earn on the toll system itself. The second thing for me is the security of personal data from all cars. This will be another big thing. For freight, I fully agree. For passenger cars, I am somewhat reluctant. What I believe may be the answer instead of vignettes is electronic vignettes, meaning time-based. But I’m not in favour of a system where everyone will pay what they drive.
The Commission is also encouraging more countries to have tolls for passenger cars. The Czech Republic is one of 18 countries that already have tolls or vignettes for passenger cars. Should more countries do the same?
I think this is a decision for every state. It’s a very special system and you have toll roads and non-tolling roads and there is a tradition for certain countries not to have highways where drivers pay. I would leave this decision to countries. It’s to finance the further development of infrastructure.
There are big differences in how much of the revenue from road tolls EU countries reinvest into road infrastructure. Should there be mandatory transparency measures requiring countries to make public how much of the revenue from road tolls go back into road infrastructure?
Definitely, I think this is essential. Transparency there should be very clear on the tolls – you reinvest in highways and roads.
Austria is leading a group of 11 countries, including the Czech Republic, to challenge Germany’s controversial draft road toll law for passenger cars. Austrian Minister Leichtfried has indicated he could even take Germany to the European Court of Justice. What do you want to do about the German toll law?
We had a meeting with Minister Leichtfried about this. I am not a hothead. I think we should first wait for what the final version of this law will be and after that, we should decide what we do. First, simply said, Germany has a right to issue vignettes and enforce them and they, of course, should not be discriminatory only against foreigners. The problem is that the CSU [the Bavarian centre-right Christian Social Union party], which came out with this proposal in their election campaign, is now measured according to that.
Today the principle looks somewhat different. However, I would like to wait to see what the second chamber of the German parliament will do with this law and how the law looks after that. We’ll study the implications and decide whether to go for further actions or not. Frankly speaking, to have tough words towards Germany, considering we will never agree, is something which I would not do now.
There has been a lot of debate about whether there should be a new EU road agency after the Dieselgate scandal. Would it be a good idea to create one?
A very big question is what this road agency will definitely do. To simplify things it would be great. But if agencies are also responsible for further developing roads it is a question of whether they can do it. Then we need the same construction law in every country. This would be so complicated. Probably now isn’t the right time to do it.