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Face to face: ECATRA

While Europe is expanding, the European Car and Truck Rental Association has seen the number of vehicles represented among its members drop sharply in the past year following a high-profile departure.

In October, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) announced it was leaving the organisation, removing at a stroke a power base of more than two million vehicles from the organisation.

At the time, the director general of the BVRLA, John Lewis, explained: "We have been concerned for a while that we were not deriving what we needed from our membership of ECATRA.

"We need solid influence in Brussels, in the heart of the European Commission (EC), which produces 50% of new legislation enacted in the UK. And we need to have that influence at what I would call ‘the point of design'.

"That is influence at the point where the legislation is being written rather than after it has been enacted. It’s a process that has proved very successful with our own UK Government.

"Our present arrangements with ECATRA don’t suit this scenario and therefore the committee of management took the unanimous decision that members’ needs would be better served through different means.

"We already have in place separate arrangements for gathering information on EC issues and now we are extending our contacts further so that we can bring influence to bear at the right point and at the right time."

It was a serious blow to the European organisation and there have been rumours that Germany, the unofficial home of ECATRA, is also considering its position.

For Bernard Pollak, president of ECATRA, it is a far cry from last year’s celebrations when the organisation marked its 40th anniversary. He said at the time that the organisation was on the edge of expansion, both through the success of current member countries and the business opportunities brought through expansion of the EU.

But he is still confident about its value for the European rental and leasing market, particularly with the key new appointment of Axel Rindberg, with extensive experience in European Commission affairs and strong contacts in power, as its general secretary.

In addition, it continues to be well represented at a senior level during European discussions on transport, most recently at the meetings relating to CARS21, the wide-ranging EC investigation into a new regulatory system for transport in the 21st century.

Pollak said: "There are still 13 countries that are members and 15 associations. Malta has jut become a member and we also have negotiations with other areas offering expansion, including Russia and Poland. There are big opportunities there.

"We were very sad that the UK stepped down from ECATRA, but we believe we will still remain very close to European affairs. We have received emails from UK companies and we have a duty to reply, even if the country is not a member. If any rental or leasing company asks for something, then we should help.

"We will have new developments of our services in the future and I would like to see the UK rejoin. There is positive change at ECATRA that will bring new relations and ideas."

There are a number of key areas and issues that are likely to have an impact next year, particularly in the development of CARS21 which could have a major impact on the car industry in Europe.

There will also be continuing debate about the future of VAT in EU member states, while it already has a number of issues on which it is representing its members. These include cross-border leasing, B2B and B2C VAT issues, an EU car taxation review, continuing work on a new EU driving licence, the impact of distance selling regulations, Basel II, and the impact of international accounting standards.

Despite the problems the organisation has faced, Pollak believes there is a strong future for ECATRA.

He said: "Every organisation has change and it is what we call normal change. We have a new secretary general, Axel Rindberg, with 10 years’ experience of lobbying in Brussels, who has also trained as a lawyer, and he will provide great support in reacting to EC Directives.

"ECATRA stays the same and we will achieve change through positive direct action at the heart of Europe."

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