The presidency programme, published on 6 January, notes that Prague will "focus intensively" on discussing and reaching an agreement between member states on the proposed 'Eurovignette' directive, which if adopted, would allow governments to integrate the costs of congestion, accidents, noise and air pollution into toll prices for heavy goods vehicles.
As fuel prices are no longer driving up the cost of road haulage as they were last summer when the European Commission first published its proposal, criticisms that the EU would be adopting 'Eurovignette' in an era of soaring oil prices are no longer valid. Nevertheless, a European Council agreeement on the plans still appears to be some way off. The French EU Presidency's final attempt to reach an agreement on the issue late last year resulted in failure, highlighting a "significant number" of outstanding issues which must be addressed before a deal can be struck (EurActiv 10/12/08).
Moreover, Eastern European countries, alongside Finland and Portugal, have expressed fears that the plans could hurt their economies as they rely strongly on road transport for trade with the rest of the EU.
In a joint statement issued on 5 January, European freight forwarders, logistics service providers, customs agents and the road transport sector expressed "great concern" about the proposal, underlining that it was "based on the incorrect assumption that a simple increase of costs of road transport would influence road transport patterns and achieve more sustainable transport".
While the stakeholders agree with the EU's objective of promoting sustainable road transport by reducing its external costs, they express "serious doubts" as to whether the measures proposed by the Commission would actually achieve this goal. On the contrary, they argue that the proposed tolls would "erode the financial capacity of road transport operators to invest in new and cleaner vehicles, Intelligent Transport Systems and training (for example eco-driving)," with adverse effects on greening road transport.
On the other hand, the rail sector is very supportive of green road charging for trucks and road transport as a whole. Indeed, should hauliers pass on the additional green tolls to their customers, people may consider the option of rail freight more often, resulting in increased business for rail operators.
The European Parliament's transport committee is set to adopt its first report on the proposal in January, with the vote in plenary to be held in March. The Czech Presidency wants the Council to have set out its general approach and reached political agreement on the dossier by March, or June at the very latest.