ECG held its Annual Dinner Debate in the European Parliament on 19th April under the patronage of MEP Gesine Meiβner. The event, entitled “Digitalisation in logistics - Is our speed sufficient? …or are the Member States pushing the brakes?” was very well attended by ECG Board members, MEPs and assistants, Commission officials and Brussels stakeholders. It was opened by ECG Chairman and President-elect, Wolfgang Göbel, who underscored the importance of digitalisation in logistics. He said investment is needed not just for hardware in the logistics sector but also in software. He drew attention to the strong growth in the car market in the last 40 months; and the fact that the first quarter of 2016 registration of passenger cars saw further growth of +8%. The need for IT applications within our industry’s processes is also accepted by many car manufacturers and  ACEA has placed the topic of digitalisation very high on its agenda (safe driving cars).

MEP Meiβner, member of the EP’s Transport & Logistics Committee, highlighted in her keynote speech that digitalisation is a real challenge for lawmakers as development happens so fast in the sector. She commended ECG on the provocative title of the event and noted that she has an answer to it but she would only share it at the end of the event, after  discussions had taken place. She referred in her speech to the important issue of last mile delivery and platooning, which offers a safer and more fuel efficient logistics option. This could even be transferred to the railways. Coming from Germany, she noted that her country hasn’t yet ratified the eCMR protocol.

Michael Bünning, ECG Board member and Managing Director of BLG Automobile Logistics, took the floor to speak about the (non-)use of e-documents in logistics. Speaking of his own company, he highlighted that 1 million cars transported annually means 2 million sheets of paper, while at EU level this is 16.5 million cars and 33 million sheets of paper used. This represents 135 tonnes of wood each year.

The UN-developed eCMR protocol was designed to provide a legal framework to allow electronic consignment notes for international transport, but only 8 EU Member States and Switzerland have ratified it so far. The picture is further complicated by the fact that when trucks are crossing a country where the eCMR protocol has not yet been ratified, electronic documents can’t be used for the journey. Mr. Bünning highlighted that a Europe-wide solution is needed as, for instance, his home country, Germany has not yet ratified the protocol. Government officials said that there is not enough pressure from industry to do so! Their argument is that electronic consignment notes, bills of lading and warehouse warrants are only permissible when authenticity and integrity are ensured (i.e. to ensure equivalence with paper).

The rail freight sector faces the same dilemmas as the road freight sector. There the electronic form of CIM (Uniform Rules concerning the Contract of International Carriage of Goods by Rail) offers the possibility for electronic papers. The operational side is willing to take the eCIM on-board, but obstacles remain from a legal and political (i.e. Member States) perspective. Mr. Bünning underscored that in case of multimodal transport electronic documents can create synergies.

The possibility of using electronic documents in the maritime sector exists and the EU adopted its Reporting Formalities Directive (RFD) which aims to simplify, harmonise, and rationalise administrative procedures and reporting requirements for maritime carriers calling at EU ports. By 1st June 2015 Member States should have implemented measures to allow the electronic submission and reception of reporting formalities concerning vessels, their crew and cargo via a ‘national single window’. The deadline was missed in many cases and the current (paper-based) systems continue at port- or national level, sometimes in parallel with the new system. Moreover, the concept of a national single window has been seriously compromised as each Member State is developing its own independent system and sometimes there are differences among ports from the same Member State!

Michael Bünning also briefly presented the Digital Transport & Logistics Forum, a European Commission initiative in which ECG is an active member, participating in the sub-group on electronic documents.

The next speaker at the event, Mrs. Brigide Kisters, Counsellor Infrastructure, Transport & Mobility at the Netherlands Permanent Representation to the EU was speaking on behalf of the current Dutch Presidency of the EU. She underlined in her speech that logistics is one of the sectors where closer co-operation is needed in the EU. She strongly believes in the force of innovation, so when rules are needed, they should be efficient and smart. As all modes of transport have their own documents, synergies are needed for more efficiency. She therefore called for the “high-speed” adoption of eCMR; best practice sharing and co-operation through the DTLF forum.

The last speaker at the event was Mrs. Desirée Oen, Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Commissioner Bulc. She noted that the different national rules or the reintroduction of border controls create various hindrances to the efficient functioning of logistics. She said that the use of Big Data creates efficiency opportunities but there are some objections to data sharing from the Member States. The good functioning of Big Data needs the appropriate infrastructure. She called on ECG to make sure its voice is heard, especially in the Transport Ministries of the Member States. She reassured her audience that under the tenure of Mrs. Violeta Bulc as Commissioner for Transport ECG’s voice will not go unheard!

During the Questions & Answers session the first question asked referred to the obstacles the Commission is facing when attempting to move forward with  electronic documents legislation. Mrs Meissner said that Member States are reluctant to take the new electronic documents on. Therefore, the ECG event’s title is correct - provocative, but correct.

MEP Sean Kelly from the floor noted that digitalisation is a good development, that is evident, but it is not happening. It has to be led from Brussels in his eyes. Mrs Oen replied that some Member States don’t like Regulations, which are binding legislative acts which have to be applied in their entirety across the European Union. That’s why lawmakers opt for Directives where the Member States can decide how to implement the new law. She explained that Member States need time for the implementation. The preparation and implementation time of a law can be up to 5-7 years.

The representative from the IRU said that electronic documents are also used for safety reasons as well (eCall). This can have an added value as ambulance and fire brigade can arrive better prepared. All new cars will be equipped with eCall technology from April 2018 so trucks are not included in the legislation but this might change at a later stage.

In their closing remarks MEP Meiβner and Wolfgang Göbel both highlighted that there was an overriding consensus at the event on the utility of digitalisation in logistics. Everybody wants to move in the same direction but some actors are nonetheless simultaneously pushing the brakes. It takes much more energy and time to proceed when the brakes are also engaged!