Czech haulage sector, manufacturing, has much to lose from end of Schengen zone

Photo: Barbora Kmentová

Around 25-30 years ago small, for some reason mostly blue, mid-sized Czech trucks were the most common haulage vehicles on the country’s motorways. It was clear that they had been mostly made for short journey within the Czech Republic, or former Czechoslovakia, or to neighbouring countries.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
How times have changed. Now long HGV lorries with Czech plates are common on both domestic and EU motorways. It’s clear that the Czech road haulage sector has thrived in the last two decades. Domestically, they have squeezed rail transport, and at the European level Czech, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Hungarian truck drivers are now a substantial force on German, French, and Belgian motorways.

The latest figures are not easy to find but it’s pretty clear that while Western Europe might still be buying and consuming a lot of the continent’s goods, Central European truck drivers and, to a lesser extent, companies are delivering them the long distances they are now expected to travel.

A European Commission study from 2014 gave some idea of the change. It gives figures for 2011 showing Polish haulage companies as the biggest in the EU for the tonnage of goods transported. The Czech Republic came in second place, with about half the tonnage of Poland, but still way ahead of Western countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. The study provided another substantial statistic, the biggest cross border haulage market in Europe is now the traffic between Germany and Poland and back.

Central and East European haulage companies are not only taking goods to and from West European countries but, under so –called cabotage where they carry out haulage within a third country, within the more advanced EU member states themselves.

The reason for this transport overhaul, forgive the pun, is not hard to see. Basically, Czech and Polish, not to mention Romanian, lorry drivers earn half of what their Western counterparts could command.

And the transport revolution in Central Europe can be seen in other ways as well. Twenty kilometres across the Czech-Polish motorway border site at Rozvadov you hit the lines of huge logistics centres and halls that have mushroomed in the past 20 years. Similar centres and halls can be found near other borders and around big cities such as Prague.

So, when it comes to the possible ending of the free movement Schengen zone that represents free movement of goods and persons across most of the EU, it’s understandable that the Czech Republic and other Central European countries have more to lose. There’s another bigger downside of such a move for the Czech Republic as well, it is the most industrialized country in the EU and just in time delivery regime that underpins most modern manufacturing would also risk considerably larger time lags and costs if EU borders were reinstalled.