Straight-talking logistics experts: This is what we want from politics!

Reading time: approx. 9 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Adobestock Svyatoslav Lypynskyy, Rhenus SE & Co. KG, Dierk Kruse, Helmut Baldus GmbH

Logistics is the backbone of the German economy but many restrictions and regulations make work difficult for the industry’s entrepreneurs. Three logistics experts clearly state on what they expect from politics.

Sascha Hähnke, Managing Director,
Rhenus Transport:

‘Are we the drivers or the driven?’

Hubertus Kobernuss, former owner of Jürgen Kobernuss Spedition, member of the supervisory board of the Federal Association of Road Haulage and Logistics (Bundesverband Güterkraftverkehr und Logistik, BGL) and Vice President of the General Transport Industry Association in Lower Saxony (Gesamtverband Verkehrsgewerbe Niedersachen e.V., GVN):

‘These grievances should not exist at all in a united Europe.’

Maximilian Baldus, Managing Director and Personnel Manager, Helmut Baldus:

‘I want more Europe and less small-state mentality.’

Sascha Hähnke, Managing Director of Rhenus Transport: ‘To be honest, the only positive thing at the moment is that there seems to be money available since funding has been promised for several areas. Although we must not pretend that the money is a gift – as I understand it, we paid for it ourselves through taxes and the truck toll. Apart from that, I can’t think of much good at this stage unfortunately. As an entrepreneur, I currently have a lot to do with the topic of digitisation, as was the case last year, too. This results in costs and ties up resources. At the same time, we are still struggling with a shortage of drivers and there are too few parking spaces for trucks. Then there’s the fact that we, as an industry, must also deal with alternative drive systems. I am always asking myself if we’re the drivers or the driven? I would be happy to be the driven – that would be the case if we had any political indication as to which direction we are going in, and if the big manufacturers were also sending us in the right direction. But unfortunately it’s the other way round: we have to drive both politics and the manufacturers. This is a big challenge.

Unbureaucratic and rapid funding

We have absolutely nothing against clearly defined and ambitious climate targets; on the contrary, we have something against these targets being tackled half-heartedly. If you look at today’s funding programmes, they constitute an enormously elaborate tangle of applications. Why is there even a need for consulting firms that help with grant applications? Funding needs to be so unbureaucratic and quick that we are able to easily take care of it ourselves. Moreover, subsidies are clearly too low, quite apart from the fact that the approval of subsidy applications sometimes takes many months. And above all, the competition for accessing these funding pots is not fair. While local authorities, for example, receive up to 90 per cent subsidies to purchase vehicles with alternative drive systems, the private sector receives a maximum of 30,000 euros per truck. That is only about 10 per cent of the purchase costs!

»Alternative drives are not a matter of faith; there are simply no alternatives.«

Use all available alternative drives

We can only protect the climate together. In other words, manufacturers, industry and politicians must work together. There was talk of a ‘Green Deal’ in Brussels. A deal still means that all parties involved have reached an agreement, but we were not asked as an industry – this so-called deal has already been decided. And when I read interviews with the big OEMs, one doesn’t buy into the concepts of the other – but alternative drives are not a matter of faith; there are simply no alternatives. To achieve the climate targets, we will have to use all available alternative drives in the future, and therefore all must be promoted equally.

What’s more, the whole thing must happen much quicker. Clear signals have been missing so far: we have a toll exemption that is time-limited and will expire at the end of the year – as things stand today. There is no longer an incentive to buy gas-powered vehicles and the option of special depreciation for electric vehicles is limited to 7.5 tons. We have no planning certainty. It is absolutely impossible to refer to any recommendations: we have to investigate the matter ourselves and then make a decision. The industry finds this difficult.

Annoy your local politicians!

Within the Rhenus Group, we are trying to work together with colleagues and seek dialogue with politicians. We are discussing these critical issues in committees, associations and also with our customers. There are currently many problems, and we are continuing to discuss them with all stakeholders. I am always imploring colleagues to annoy their local politicians, district authority or even the mayor. Discuss the problems with regional associations and traffic committees, but don’t let this stop you from participating in field tests. Let’s test everything together – if we simply sit back and wait, very little will happen.’

Changes in favour of the economy and the population

Hubertus Kobernuss, former owner of Jürgen Kobernuss Spedition, member of the supervisory board of the Federal Association of Road Haulage and Logistics (Bundesverband Güterkraftverkehr und Logistik, BGL) and Vice President of the General Transport Industry Association in Lower Saxony (Gesamtverband Verkehrsgewerbe Niedersachen e.V., GVN): ‘Despite all the criticism I level at our legal system, at controlling bodies or even at the laws or regulations themselves, to my mind, Germany is still a model for the functionality of a constitutional state. Even though I myself am subject to these controls to a large extent and am also punished if I make mistakes, I know that everyone else is treated in the same way. Nevertheless, there are many things that I would simply like to change in favour of the economy and the population. After all, both profit to a great extent when the economy and logistics are doing well.

On the one hand, we have a national regulatory framework for commercial goods transport via the Road Haulage Act (Güterkraftverkehrsgesetz, GüKG), but the so-called Polish sprinters – small vans from Eastern Europe that transport piece goods at rock-bottom prices – utterly distort competition in my opinion. They are not covered by the GüKG, and thus neither the EU social regulation applies to them nor is there a regulatory framework for them. I believe this to be a problem that must be solved. We still have very clear rules of the game when it comes to national fiscal policy, but these are partly circumvented by the fact that companies here in Europe choose the state in which corporate taxation is lowest. Illegal cabotage undermines the regulatory framework, and with taxation comes competition. This in turn goes hand in hand with deficits in the social sphere, for example with regard to wage differentials between individual states. Monitoring the regulatory framework is also a problem since it is sometimes interpreted in different ways: there are already countries that carry out monitoring for the benefit of their own companies. The controls are sometimes so lax that hauliers can carry out cabotage without the risk of being caught. And should they be caught by way of exception, they only expect minor penalties.

»I believe that this is not only an injustice, but that these grievances should not exist at all in a united Europe.«

Significant differences across Europe

There are also significant differences across Europe in the technical field. Larger – heavier, wider, longer – vehicles are only allowed on the road in Germany to a very limited extent and only under certain conditions, while in countries such as Scandinavia, the Benelux countries or, in parts, France, other vehicle combinations with considerably higher weights or dimensions are permitted. Of course, I understand the discussion about the load on roads and bridges, but then we need to think about initiating a joint research project with the Federal Highway Research Institute (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, BASt). We must investigate how the infrastructure – bridges and roads – as well as the vehicles and vehicle combinations (wheel bases, axle centre distances, axle loads and total masses) can be optimised and ultimately used more efficiently. Another point relates to the restrictions on the right of way: as an example, traffic guidance through tolls sanctions and controls the right of way. Transit bans on the main roads in Austria are a major obstacle for me. I believe that this is not only an injustice, but that these grievances should not exist at all in a united Europe.

Equal rights for all controlling bodies

Germany also has the lowest fines in Europe when it comes to punishing infringements. But drivers’ discipline will only improve if they are also hit hard by the fines, economically speaking. In Belgium and France four-digit fines are imposed, even for quite minor infringements. I also see in our neighbouring countries that the police and controlling bodies have much greater authority there: in Germany, the Federal Office for Goods Transport monitors the regulatory framework, as well as driving time and breaks; the police also monitor technical issues, and the customs office checks compliance with social regulations and minimum wages. That’s simply not a solution! All control bodies must have the same rights, and they must also be able to act across the board. Our citizens simply cannot think that everything is allowed – provided you are not caught. This represents a clear regional handicap for Germany. And I can’t understand why politicians don’t want to regulate it.’

Harmonising the competition

Maximilian Baldus, Managing Director and Personnel Manager of Helmut Baldus GmbH: ‘I think that harmonising the competition should be the current focus of political work. It’s great that the transport sector and the European market are very free, but at the same time it means that, at the moment, the cost leader is the one who has the cheapest drivers, vehicles or political conditions – while everyone is competing in the same market. After all, there are certain goods streams in Europe that are only served by certain nationalities. However, in the spirit of the free market economy, the entrepreneur enjoying the best market performance should survive, not the one with the cheapest personnel, who may then live in the truck for weeks or months. I want more Europe and less small-state mentality.

Innovative strength for medium-sized businesses

In the case of digitisation, examples such as Flixbus or Amazon show that it often leads to monopolisation: the more digital the requirements become, the more crucial the size of the platform. This increases the barriers to market entry and threatens to swallow up medium-sized businesses. This is why we should also become more aware of this from a political point of view: when it comes to digitisation, there are not only start-ups and large corporations. There is also a strong SME sector and it should have the power to innovate. We need to seriously consider how to organise digitisation without having a large operator that covers the whole market and to which the others are only subordinate.

»Instead of subsidies, better framework conditions would help us to meet these challenges: a reduction in bureaucracy and standardisation across Europe, too.«

More money for courageous decisions

The transport sector is currently subject to ever increasing costs. Entrepreneurs are forced to invest in new vehicles to save on tolls and afford various taxes. Yet if they are so financially burdened and are under high cost pressure, all while working to minimum margins, they cannot be innovative. Only those who have the financial means to do so can try out alternative drives, for example, without it ruining the company if the technology does not ultimately succeed. Instead of subsidies, better framework conditions would help us to meet these challenges: a reduction in bureaucracy and standardisation across Europe, too. I am a true fan of Europe and the free market, but its conditions must be equal and fair.

It’s just an idea but we could set a minimum price for transport, bearing in mind the need for climate protection. I am very liberal and certainly do not want a planned economy, but such an approach could enable companies to avoid unrealistic, utopian transport prices being created by pure market speculation and everything being driven around at practically rock-bottom prices. And it would ensure the haulier who makes the trip has a margin that also allows them to be innovative on a small scale and invest in things that keep their company viable for the future. We could step away from day-to-day business and focus more on strategy, rather than worrying about everyday life and constantly adapting to bureaucratic changes.

Better pay for employees

Of course, we should not complain since we live in one of the safest, most judicious and best organised countries in the world. It goes without saying that we would like to see improvements in all possible areas, but given that the fundamentals are right, there is really no reason to complain. Nevertheless, logistics does not yet have the lobby that it needs and deserves. It’s not important to me that the industry is celebrated heroically. No, it should simply be that you can work in logistics and be able to pay your employees better. As entrepreneurs, we would have the opportunity to work in a more relaxed manner, to be more innovative and to devote ourselves more to things that are crucial for the future than to cultivate bureaucratic requirements.’
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