Ecopoints deal is “ecological bankruptcy”, says Austrian Minister

On 25 November – the last day of the Conciliation procedure – the Council and the Parliament finally managed to agree on a deal extending the Austrian ‘ecopoints’ system to the year 2006.

On 25 November, the Conciliation Committee, bringing together representatives from the Council and Parliament, reached an agreement on extending the ‘ecopoints’ system for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 but introduced substantial changes on the way it operates.

The new ecopoint Regulation will be applied to the entire Austrian territory, which was requested by Austria and previously refused by the Parliament.

From 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2006, the most polluting lorries (using more than 8 points) will not be allowed to transit through Austria. A quota system for heavy goods vehicles will be applied to vehicles using from 6 to 8 points.

Contrary to the wishes of Austria and environmentalist groups, the new system will allow free access to trucks using low-polluting technology (lorries using 5 points or less).

Parliament, Council and Commission also agreed on the number of points to be allocated to each of the accession countries until 2006. The number of ‘ecopoints’ to be allocated to current and future Member States will be reduced by five per cent in 2005 and a further five per cent in 2006.

 

The agreement reached in conciliation was vehemently contested by the Austrian MEPs, as well as by the Austrian government representatives. Austria wanted to maintain control over the number of lorries transiting through its territory and opposed unrestricted access.Austrian Transport Minister Hubert Gorbach, said this agreement corresponded to an "ecological bankruptcy".

European Parliament Conciliation delegation leader Renzo Imbeni (PES, I)said the EP had already shown its willingness to adapt its position at second reading in order to meet Austrian demands. He explained that Parliament had agreed to the application of the new rules to the whole Austrian territory, as - Austria, the Council and the Commission wanted - even though the EP had originally called for the system to be restricted to certain Alpine regions only. He added that the original number of nine million ecopoints had been greatly reduced (to 6,593,487).

T& E, the European Federation for Transport and Environmenturges the European Parliament to reject the compromise, claiming that the environmental benefits of the new scheme would be practically non-existent.

 

The current 'ecopoints' system, which regulates the transit of heavy good vehicles through Austria will expire at the end of December 2003. The system, set up in 1995, allows Austria the privilege to limit the transit of heavy good vehicle through its territory. It aims to reconcile the protection of the environment with the principle of free circulation of goods.

Under this system, the Commission grants each Member State a certain number of points per year. Every time a heavy good vehicle travels through Austria, it has to pay a certain number of points according to the amount of pollution it emits. The number of points is based on the nitrogen oxide emissions.

The total number of available 'ecopoints' is reduced year by year. The pollution targets were based on those recorded in 1991 (reference year).

 

This agreement must be now endorsed by the Parliament (majority of votes cast) and the Council (qualified majority voting procedure) for the regulation to be adopted.

The 'ecopoints' system is expected to be replaced by the draft directive on infrastructure charging which, once it is adopted, will regulate the charging of heavy goods vehicles on motorways across the EU.

The 'ecopoints' system will in any case be abolished on 31 December 2006 (even if the Infrastructure charing directive is not adopted by that date).

 

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