Austria steps up pressure for extended ecopoint system

Ahead of the Copenhagen Summit, Austrian Transport Minister Mathias Reichhold has announced his country would continue to link a satisfactory solution of the question of heavy truck transit through the Austrian Alps to the issue of enlargement.

Over the last weeks, Austria has continued to play the "Alpine card" at every possible occasion to achieve a satisfactory solution to the controversial issue of an extension of the ecopoint system due to expire at the end of next year. The system was drawn up to restrict the flow of heavy traffic through the Alps after Austria's accession to the EU in 1995 (seeEURACTIV on 28 October 2002).

In last week's talks on a savings tax deal with Switzerland, Austria refused to accept any compromise, adding that German and Italian concessions in the Alpine discussion could possibly "improve the atmosphere" for an agreement.

The country also put the topic on the agenda of the enlargement dinner following the last round of accession talks at ministerial level on 9 December. Austria meant to once more recall to the Member States that the Austrian government has been linking the enlargement to a satisfactory solution to its transport problem since end 1999.

Prime Minister Wolfgang Schüssel brought up the issue already at the Brussels Summit in October, threatening that the accession treaty could possibly not receive ratification by the Austrian parliament.

Other than Italy, Germany is seen to be the fiercest opponent to an extension of the ecopoint system. While Austrian and Italian governments end of October roughly agreed on future changes to the system, no compromise deal could be struck with Austria's northern neighbour.

Should Austria not succeed at the European Council, some creativity can be expected from the Austrian regions. The Tyrol region has already passed a law on air pollution enabling it to block all freight traffic in case local air pollution passes a certain limit.


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