LUXEMBOURG (AP) -- EU governments tentatively approved a plan on Monday that would make it easier for trucks from one member state to collect and deliver goods in another. The goal is to help liberalize an industry that remains highly divided by national borders.
The EU transport ministers agreed that beginning in 2014 trucks should be allowed to take cargo to another country and to make three extra trips within that nation to pick up and deliver local goods there.
But the trucks still would not be permitted to pick up cargo and take it back home. And that limitation led the Netherlands, Britain, the Czech Republic and Ireland to air misgivings about the plan. They said it would still keep too many trucks driving home empty, which goes against the EU's ambitious goals of slashing carbon emissions.
A formal decision is expected in June.
The plan also calls for an EU-wide databank of bona fide trucking companies.
EU governments have always been highly protective of their trucking sectors since most companies are small or mid-sized operators.
But the industry's growth prospects are leading to calls for more liberalization.
''Our studies show that long-distance trucking on German highways will double by 2025,'' Matthias von Randauw, the German deputy transport minister told the meeting.
''How are we going to keep traffic moving?''
Trucks that now take cargo to another EU nation cannot bring other goods home, or pick up and drop off local cargo within the country because such so-called ''cabotage'' rights are severely restricted to protect national industries.
The European Parliament and big trucking nations such as Germany and the Netherlands want an end to these restrictions and the full liberalization of the EU trucking sector.
''At the moment Europe is a quilt of national rules and regulations,'' said Dutch Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings.
Most EU nations -- notably France, Italy, Austria, Portugal and Malta -- take a go-slow approach to market liberalization.
Christa Kranzl, the Austrian transport secretary, said complete liberalization of road haulage would harm competition.
''We should think in terms of protecting against distortion of competition,'' she said. Unlike other EU nations, ''99 percent of Austria's road haulage sector consists of relatively small companies,'' she added.
EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot said after the EU meeting that the steps agreed to so far were a modest but necessary first step, adding: ''The road haulage market continues to be highly fragmented by national borders.''
He said a EU databank of trucking companies would curb tax fraud and provide better tracking of road haulers. Currently, he said, companies that lose an operating license in an EU nation can move undetected to another to set up business there.