VEMAGS reform under fire

By Alex Dahm03 February 2021

Ton Klijn, ESTA director Ton Klijn, ESTA director

Permit costs for heavy transport and abnormal loads in Germany look likely to increase by 130 per cent or more in the wake of controversial reforms of the country’s VEMAGS permitting system.

Non-German transport companies also fear that the changes will place them at a commercial disadvantage against their German rivals and that the new system will lead to increased bureaucracy and delays.

As a result, ESTA – the European Association of Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes – is asking its members to get in touch with detailed examples of how the new system is working in practice with a view to raising concerns with the European Commission.

VEMAGS is the German online system for the application and approval for large-scale and heavy transports in all 16 federal states. Debate about reforming the rules has been underway for many months.

The latest changes were announced following a meeting of Germany’s Bundesrat, or Federal Council, on 6 November 2020. They came into force on 1 January 2021 but the impact is only now becoming apparent.

The German authorities started the process of VEMAGS reform to align both the processes and the rates charged for permits between the different Bundesländer, or states. They also wanted to counter what they called “permit tourism”. The time to award a permit varies from days to weeks so companies often send in applications to multiple authorities and accept the one from the authority that reacts the quickest.

Under the new rules international transport companies without a branch office in Germany can only apply for a permit at one location – either at the loading place (if the route to the loading place does not require a permit) or at the border – and experts are concerned that some permit booking offices are going to be overwhelmed by the number of applications they will have to deal with.

In contrast, companies based in Germany will have the advantage of being able to obtain permits from two sources – either from their company location or the location of the start of the transport.

Concerns about the changes have been raised by many members of ESTA, some of whom also believe the German authorities are exploiting current circumstances to increase prices and raise money.

Ton Klijn, ESTA director, said, “The real question to ask is why this is such an issue in Germany compared with other countries? In Holland you can get most permits in 24 hours so why does it take up to eight weeks in Germany?

“Quite understandably, the German authorities want to deal with the permit tourism issue but they are planning changes that will cause great difficulties, rather than reducing the delays that are the cause of the problems in the first place.

“What is more, they are introducing these changes at the worst possible time for the industry and our clients when many are already dealing with the combined impact of the pandemic and Brexit.”

Originally, the German authorities also proposed to ban overseas transport companies but not their German counterparts from obtaining a long-term permit, or Dauergenehmigung, but that was withdrawn when ESTA and other interested organisations threatened to raise the matter urgently with the European Commission, arguing it was in clear breach of the regulations on fair trade and the single market.

Klijn added, “You could argue that this situation now is not as bad as we first feared but, it is still not good news.

“Brussels will not intervene on the issue of the increased costs, as that is a matter for the national authorities. But whether the new rules discriminate against non-German companies is something we will be watching very closely.

“It may be that the new rules work out fine, and that the German authorities put in the necessary resources to minimise delays. Or it may be that these new arrangements amount to a ‘de facto’ discrimination against non-German companies in which case we reserve the right to return to Brussels and raise this issue once more.”

A further concern is the impact on service companies that obtain permits on behalf of their clients. Under the new rules as currently written, they would have to register for every company separately on the VEMAGS site and they can only apply for a permit at the same place that the company they represent could apply so, for a non-German company, that is only at the entry border.

Klijn continued, “This means the service companies can no longer use long-standing contacts in permitting offices near their own offices. Traditionally, these permitting offices were well staffed and well informed because they handled a large stream of permits.

“The option of being able to apply at a near-by permit office is now only open for German companies, and that can be a big advantage.”

Klijn concluded, “This is a very important issue for our members. We will be asking them for detailed information about how the VEMAGS changes are working in practice to ensure that this is not a form of discrimination against non-German companies by the back door.”

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