Italy Pleads With EU to Let Truckers Continue Delivering Freight

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Italy’s transport minister asked the nation’s European Union partners to ensure unrestricted passage for truck drivers as the continent’s worst coronavirus outbreak leads to scrutiny and delays on the northern border.

Freedom of movement for freight in the EU needs to be guaranteed, without discrimination against Italian truckers, Paola De Micheli said Friday.

“It’s fundamental that goods circulate, especially the essential ones, like medical equipment and food supplies,” De Micheli said in an emailed response to questions. Truck drivers must also be granted less rigid working hours, she said.

Freedom of movement and trade is one of the founding principles of the EU, and one that’s being tested by the pandemic. Austria restricted border crossings from Italy on March 10, denying entry to anyone who doesn’t hold a health certificate — no more than four days old — proving a negative coronavirus test.

Truck drivers are exempt from that rule, but are still subject to medical scrutiny at the border. They are denied entry to Austria if they are found to have a fever or if other signs cast doubt over their health. The first day of the measures led to an 80-kilometer (50-mile) queue at the Brenner Pass, a key Alpine choke-point for trans-European travel.

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The bottleneck has improved since then, helped by a dedicated system for trucks at the Brenner Pass, as well as a plunge in car traffic: use of Autostrade per l’Italia SpA’s highway network dropped 56% in the week ended March 15.

EU transport ministers and the European Commission also agreed on Wednesday “to work closely together to minimize traffic disruptions, especially for essential freight.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera Saturday that the common market needs to remain “operative and fluid as much as possible.”

Italy had its worst one-day death toll from the coronavirus outbreak on Friday, reporting that 627 people died over 24 hours. That brought Italy’s fatalities to 4,032, and it surpassed China on Thursday as the country with the most deaths.

Truckers already faced difficulties from domestic measures to contain the crisis, with rest stops and toilets alongside Italian highways often closed.

Paolo Ugge, vice-president of the Conftrasporto association of truck drivers, said March 19 on RAI radio that the situation remains serious for his members. Truckers face confusion over measures required by foreign countries, some of which are imposing quarantine on Italian travelers, he said.

— With assistance by Boris Groendahl

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