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Transport liberalisation once again found itself in the eye of the storm

06 January 2012 / 00:01:12  GRReporter
3116 reads

Victoria Mindova

Over the past year in Greece there have been plenty of overdue reforms and unworkable laws, including the liberalization of various sectors of the Greek economy. Among them is also the law for the liberation of transportation for public use, which includes drivers of trucks and tankers in the whole country.

Liberalisation turned the summer of 2010 into a complete nightmare in the literal sense of the word. Drivers from this field refused to accept the changes imposed by the government on the recommendation of the supervisory Troika - the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. They did not want to settle with the idea of a dismissal of the number of restrictions on licences on how many thousands of tankers and trucks can operate transport services nor did they agree with the government's attempt to minimize the cost of issuing a license. As a result, Greece was a hostage to their strike for at least two months. Gas stations did not have fuel because tankers were not delivering. Supermarkets and many other commercial sites did not get their supplies because truck drivers were on strike. Even tourist ships could not berth because the ports were blocked. Everything ended after both sides (government and transport unions) were on the brink of power and the threat of civil mobilization or imprisonment, plus the promise of a three year grace period brought back order in the country. At least temporarily.

A year and a half later things in Greece not only have not improved, but are much worse in comparison with the most pessimistic forecasts, one could have imagined in 2010. This is why a new change was necessary in the liberation of the socialist type of transport market and acceleration of the process.

The coalition government of Lucas Papademos, which brings together members of three parties (PASOK, New Democracy and LAOS) is reminiscent of the fable of the fish, crab and the pike. When the issue of a reform in the transportation sector arose, the government proved to be quite cohesive and consensus was achieved almost immediately. Evangelia Tsaga, who is responsible for the "Transport and Communications" department in New Democracy, explained the process for the readers of GRReporter.

Why were the amendments in the liberalization of transport for the public benefit necessary and how did the three governing parties reach consensus on at least one topic?

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure proposed cancelling the grace period for the liberalization of professional drivers of trucks and tankers for public use. By the law of the respective Minister back then, this period was set for early June 2013. The position of New Democracy was that if the government insists to shorten the grace period, some changes must be made so that the people affected will not seriously suffer. They made their plans according to the latest legal provision which completely changed this sector. In the middle of the period comes a new one, which will replace the old provision and everything starts all over again.

Therefore, New Democracy said that in order for it to vote to repeal the grace period and accelerate the process of liberalization some changes should be made which will ease the transition for public use truck drivers. Currently, the country is passing through a major economic crisis and transportation has been reporting a decrease. For the first time drivers started on a mass scale to hand in their truck licence plates, because there is not enough work and costs are high, health and pension contributions are high and they cannot withstand the financial burden.

What exactly are the changes?

The first change that was introduced was the cancellation of the permit in Greece to give licences for transportation activities to people from third world countries outside the European Union.

The second is related to transportation abroad. The old law allowed licensed drivers who transported abroad to work within Greece as well. Thus this group of drivers was found to be benefiting from the law more than drivers who have permission to work only within the country. The change, with which all parties agreed in the negotiations, was that from now on everyone will be able to get a licence to work in the country and abroad, if they meet the relevant criteria.

The third proposal, which we made, is that in order for trucks to get a licence they would first need to have minimal environmental class Euro 5. Moreover we cancelled the obligation to form limited liability companies or other allied companies in order to allow new drivers to perform their activities. In other words, we allow market participants to be freelancers - a possibility that until recently did not exist.

The last proposal we made was to introduce a fee for all drivers of trucks and tankers for public use. It is assigned because this type of activity causes some damage to the environment, using roads and other public infrastructure and by providing the opportunity to practice this profession, the state should get something in return. These were the proposals of New Democracy in order to repeal the earlier grace period for the restructuring of the transport sector. Otherwise we would not have voted the new bill.

Tags: Greece strikes transportation truck drivers
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