Hardly any regulation under European law triggers more discussion in logistics than the freedom from cabotage within the European Union (EU). Cabotage, i.e. the transport of goods by foreign carriers within a country or from the point of dispatch to a neighboring country, is a source of excitement, especially for transport companies in Germany. Because compliance with the regulations cannot be systematically guaranteed without digitization.
In fact, the cabotage regime is clear and its meaning is recognized everywhere: cabotage traffic within the EU is intended to avoid empty journeys by lorries and thus contribute to environmental protection. After transports from one EU country to another EU country, carriers are allowed to carry out a limited number of transports on their way back to their home country. However, the restrictions on the freedom to cabotage are difficult to enforce effectively under the current rules. Random inspections of cabotage by the Federal Office for Goods Transport, customs and the police repeatedly notice violations of the applicable regulations. In the past, large fines have been imposed on individual foreign companies.
What does cabotage mean?
Cabotage refers to the transport of goods within an EU country by a transport company from another Member State. Neither the sender's address nor the place of reception is in the transport company's home country. For these logistics services, cabotage is permitted as part of the freedom to provide services within the international community. There are no restrictions on cabotage in rail and shipping. Only land transport by lorry restricts cabotage freedom for fair competition between companies from all EU countries. The working conditions and the income ratios of lorry drivers are too different between the Member States. In particular, in the Eastern European countries which joined the international community from 2004 onwards, wage levels differ considerably from those of the founding countries of the European Community. For this reason, there are Europe-wide restrictions on the number of journeys on which companies are allowed to transport goods. For these promotions, the driver must also be paid according to the applicable minimum wage during cabotage.
What cabotage regime applies?
For transport companies with a European transport licence, the so-called Community licence, EU Regulation 1072/2009 regulates cross-border transport. It allows cabotage under the following conditions:
- following unloading in a Member State
- up to three transports within a country in seven days
- cross-border transport within three days
- after unloaded entrance
- transport within three days, within the same country or across borders.
For all transports, drivers and lorries must return to the EU country from which the transport company has obtained its Community licence within 14 days at the latest. Proof of compliance is the so-called CMR Consignment Note, i.e. a document based on the International Agreement on Road Transport Contracts, which provides the following information:
- name, address and signature of the sender, •
- name, address and signature of the transport company,
- name and address of the recipient
- after unloading, the signature of the recipient with the date of unloading
- the place and date of the acceptance of the goods and the address of the unloading point,
- the usual description of the type of goods and their packaging,
- the gross weight of the goods or any other quantity,
- official registration plate of the vehicle or semi-trailer.
These documents are checked by the FOPH, police and customs authorities responsible for inspection in Germany. In addition to the actual carriers, the ordering forwarding agents are responsible for violations of the ban on cabotage.
How mobile apps make cabotage transparent
The European Parliament and the European Commission have also recognized that it is almost impossible to effectively monitor cabotage rules across Europe under the existing conditions. With Mobility Package 1, they have created a new system requiring all lorries in cross-border traffic to be equipped with digital tachographs to record border crossings by September 2025 at the latest. A first step towards digitization. Freight forwarders and transport companies, which want to provide clarity about their cabotage journeys much earlier, can use mobile apps to document their cross-border traffic simple and effective in an audit-proof manner. In addition to the information listed in the bill of lading, the smart applications also register the routes and vehicle positions in compliance with data protection. As an additional plus, the connected systems archive all tour data directly linked to the sales order. For example, freight forwarders and transport companies have full transparency at all times about the maintenance of cabotage restrictions. In the event of a check, they can also prove at the touch of a button that they have acted in accordance with the law.
Mobile apps support cabotage
Mobile apps can easily objectify the excitement cabotage. As a side effect of an efficient transport organization, they record all cabotage-related information in compliance with data protection, audit-proof and fully automatic. In this way, freight forwarders and transport companies effectively secure themselves against unintentional violations and enable rapid proof of legally compliant action. An important gain in transparency for all parties involved.