The EU executive had a hard time yesterday evening (19 January) defending its proposal to charge trucks for the noise, pollution and congestion they cause.
In a debate on the greening transport proposal and in particular the internalisation of transport external costs, MEPs and representatives of both the Council and road freight industry argued against the proposal as it currently stands.
Finnish French MEP Ari Vatanen denounced the Commission's "useless" attempt to force a modal shift from road to other means of transport, saying: "Road transport is already the most taxed transport and still people choose it. If we have a Eurovignette revision as currently proposed, it will not only hamper the road transport but also damage people's purchasing power," as the increased cost of freight would be transferred to the end consumers.
He described the proposal as "ideological policy wasting taxpayers' money" and "swimming against market forces", labelling it "mission impossible".
As the Parliament's transport committee prepares to discuss over 500 amendments tabled to the draft report on the issue today (20 January), rapporteur Saïd El Khadraoui tried to calm things down by inisiting that the proposal "is not a revolution for the sector," recalling that it "remains a voluntary directive" allowing member states to internalise external costs if they so choose. However, he acknowledged that this year is perhaps not the right time to discuss national implementation measures.
The rapporteur underlined that all political groups support Commission's proposal to earmark revenues from green road charging for expenditure on transport infrastructure, from which the funds are collected. This is the "condition sine qua non", as otherwise it is only about introducing a new tax, he said.
His comments were echoed by industry stakeholders, who deplored that "there is no trade-off for the industry" in the proposals.
Meanwhile, Council representatives noted that there is currently no common position among the 27 EU countries on earmarking, while overall, EU governments are having a hard time forging consensus on the proposal, as it would affect central and peripheral countries differently.
"Everybody agrees with the Commission objective of 'making the polluter pay'. However, when applied to our markets and haulage companies, we need to be very conscious of its impact on the market," said an Italian Council representative.
The Commission's Transport Director Enrico Grillo Pasquarelli, who hopes that the proposal will be implemented in 2011, defended the "political climate of transport sustainability," but acknowledged that legislation and taxes are not the only way to promote sustainable transport. This can also be done, for example, through cohesion funds, the Commission's economic recovery plan, rail freight corridors and investment in R&D into cleaner vehicles, he said.
However, "transport has an extrenal cost and somebody has to bear it. This is the solution we have put forward. If there are better ones, we are ready to discuss them," Grillo Pasquarelli concluded.