The proposals will be part of a broad package on 'greening transport', which will include a general Communication on 'greening transport', a proposal for a review of the Eurovignette Directive and a 'Strategy for the internalisation of external costs' for each transport mode.
The review of the Eurovignette Directive aims to enable governments to charge truck drivers for the costs they impose in terms of congestion, noise and air pollution.
According to the latest draft obtained by EurActiv, such 'external cost' charges could come on top of those already levied in some countries to finance construction and maintenance work.
Member states would not be obliged to impose such taxes but could choose to do so for vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, on any part of their road network, as of January 2012. Charges would be capped at maximum levels and would have to vary according to the time of day, the distance travelled and vehicles' Euro emissions class type – which takes account of the amount of NOx and poisonous particulate matter emitted (see LinksDossier on Euro standards).
Tolls with barriers would no longer be permitted and the collection of charges would have to be based on an electronic system so as to avoid hindrances to the free flow of traffic, although there would be a transition period up till January 2014.
CO2 costs excluded
Charging trucks for the CO2 they emit would remain forbidden. Indeed, in the draft communication, the Commission explains that although levying a specific CO2 tax on top of the air pollution and noise charges "could deliver additional benefits, it should better be addressed through a more coordinated approach at EU level to reduce greenhouse emissions based on either the Emission Trading System or a common fuel tax element in the Energy Taxation Directive".
Nor would governments be allowed to include accident costs in their road taxes, as the Commission finds that accident risks "are related not only to the distance travelled but also to complex factors such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or failure to use seat belts, hence instruments like insurance rates might be a more effective tool".
Money for sustainable transport
In what is likely to become the main contentious issue with national governments, the Commission is proposing that revenues generated by external cost charges be earmarked towards measures aimed at reducing road transport pollution at source, improving CO2 and energy performance of vehicles and developing alternative infrastructure for transport users, the communication states.
Governments would nevertheless remain free to allocate revenues raised through infrastructure charges as they choose.
A five year wait?
The Commission says it will review the situation in 2013 to determine whether the option of charging truck drivers for the costs they impose on society should become an obligation. "The review will also assess whether the cost of CO2 emissions should be allowed to be included in tolls," states the communication.
But debates in Parliament could see a change in the proposals, as MEPs appear to be far from convinced by the plans so far (see positions).