EU presidency forging consensus on green road charges

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The Czech EU Presidency last week (20 March) tabled a compromise proposal to delay the introduction of congestion charges to lorries by four years in an attempt to kick-start deadlocked negotiations.

An Council agreement on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive on road charging has been pending since the French Presidency failed to consolidate divergent national views on the internalisation of the external costs of road congestion (EURACTIV 10/12/08). 

Some member states are strongly opposed to including congestion as a chargeable external cost in the EU’s ‘greening transport’ package due to their peripheral geographic location. They fear that countries with key transit routes like France would try to profit from the option of charging, thus hampering competitiveness and access to the internal market.

The Czech Presidency, keen to reach a conclusion before June (EURACTIV 07/01/09), is trying to “bridge the gap” between those countries in favour of including congestion costs and those against, by proposing to postpone the introduction of these charges by four years. It says the gradual approach is also “appropriate” in the face of the economic downturn.

The compromise text tries to pour oil on troubled waters by defining rules which it says ensure that the internalisation of congestion costs does not simply bring additional income without contributing to the development of a sustainable transport system. The text also states that charges which put commercial traffic at a disadvantage are unacceptable. 

Moreover, the compromise would drop the maximum chargeable congestion costs of vehicles in suburban roads and motorways from 60 to 55 cents per vehicle kilometre during extreme peak periods. 

The presidency is also proposing to limit the scope of the directive to the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) and other motorway networks in member states. 

The Commission originally proposed to extend the rules to cover the entirety of EU national road networks. But the Czechs say member states are divided, with some favouring the legal transparency that comprehensive scope would bring, and others arguing a more limited approach is preferable for reasons of subsidiarity.

The Parliament backed the Commission’s proposal earlier this month (11 March) (EURACTIV 11/03/09), saying member states should be obliged to earmark the revenues from Eurovignette charges to developing greener transport. Considering significant resistance from member states, the Czech Presidency is suggesting that such obligations should not be made, but member states would need to provide information on where they have invested the revenues.

Transport ministers will consider the compromise proposal on 30 March. 

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