Road hauliers from eastern European countries which have applied to join the European Union may have to wait several years after EU entry before being allowed to compete in transport markets in the existing member states, the European Commission said today.

Brussels says the operational costs of road goods transport by operators from most candidate countries "are still significantly below the EU average" and this could lead to damaging disruption in present EU markets.

The Commission proposes a four-year restriction after EU entry for road haulage operators from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, where the governments had requested immediate or fairly prompt access, and five years for Hungary, Latvia and Poland where the potential for disruption of EU markets is even greater. Access to markets in those countries by EU operators will be similarly restricted.

The Commission's proposals will be considered by the EU governments as part of the negotiating package for EU enlargement.

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