Germany’s Transport Minister outlined proposals for a new road toll on Monday (7 July), attracting immediate comdemnation from critics, including neighbouring Austria, who say it would effectively only charge foreigners.
Alexander Dobrindt said the toll could generate an extra €2.5 billion in each four-year legislative period, and would see the drivers of foreign vehicles contributing to their upkeep.
German drivers would also pay the toll, but would be compensated with a reduction in existing automobile taxes.
“We see some 170 million trips by cars registered abroad on German roads each year. These are not involved in financing our infrastructure in any way,” said Dobrindt. “We want to bridge that gap and we want all users of our streets to contribute to their maintenance.”
His plan met with resistance from neighbouring states, driver groups and lawmakers from within Germany’s ruling right-left coalition, complicating its chances of becoming law.
Introducing such a levy was a condition however for forming a coalition imposed by Dobrindt’s Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the southern state of Bavaria, which sees a huge amount of transit traffic.
Before last September’s federal election Merkel said there would be no road toll during her tenure, although it was ultimately included in the government’s coalition agreement as a way of financing Germany’s neglected roads and bridges.
There are also concerns over whether such a toll could comply with EU law, as it could be interpreted as discriminating against foreigners.
“Non-discrimination is a basic principle of EU law. It applies to road charging as to everything else,” said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman of EU Transportation Commissioner Siim Kallas, on Monday. Kallas had previously asked Germany to drop the plan, saying it unfairly discriminated against foreign drivers.
Dobrindt said on Monday he was confident the plans were EU-compliant as all drivers, including German ones, would have to pay. He has also said however that it would result in no additional financial burden for German drivers.
He wants the charge, which would need approval by parliament and the European Union, in place by Jan. 1, 2016.
Sharing a border with nine different nations, Germany has the most neighbouring states of any European country. Austrian Transport Minister Doris Bures has threatened to take legal action against Germany if the toll treats foreigners differently.
“Austria will take every legal step to ensure to stop this discrimination of Austrian drivers… any country can levy a toll, the most important thing is that it does not discriminate against other states,” she told Austrian broadcaster ORF.
Under the proposals, a 10-day pass will cost €10, a pass for two months would cost €20. Annual passes would be priced according to a car’s emissions and size. Dobrindt said foreign drivers would pay on average about €88 per year.
Many Germans are frustrated over road tolls in neighbouring countries (including France, Austria and Switzerland), while foreigners use German highways for free. But in Germany the price of fuel is higher than in any neighbouring country, suggesting that Germany gets its toll from car drivers in a different way.
The Christian-Social Union (CSU) which is the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's CDU, has been requesting for many years that higher road tolls be introduced for foreign car drivers, using German roads. But such plans have been rejected by the European Commission multiple times on the grounds that preferential tolling amounts to discrimination based on nationality.
During the latest coalition negotiations late last year, head of the CSU Horst Seehofer insisted that a toll on foreign drivers be included in the final agreement. In the coalition agreement the new German government promises to introduce "a motor vehicle toll in compliance with EU law, by which owners of cars not registered in Germany would help finance additional spending on the highway network. Cars registered [in Germany] should not suffer higher costs."
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