MEPs stand firm on re-investing road toll cash


Voting for the second time on EU rules covering the noise and pollution charged on lorries, the European Parliament's transport committee insisted that financial revenue from green tolls should be earmarked for reinvestment in transport infrastructure.

The Parliament's transport committee voted this morning (12 April), at second reading, on the so-called 'Eurovignette Directive', which would enable EU countries to set up road charging systems to make trucks pay for their "external costs" such as pollution and noise.

The report drafted by Belgian Socialist MEP Saïd El Khadraoui was adopted, with amendments, by 26 in favour, one against and 11 abstentions.

The vote sets the Parliament's views miles away from EU member states on how to use the financial revenue from green road tolls.

The Parliament insists on earmarking such revenue for improving the sustainability of the transport sector, for example by investing in research into cleaner engines and alternative freight transport modes.

But the Council – representing EU member states – merely proposes that the funds raised "should" be earmarked for programmes that improve the sustainability of the transport system.

EU countries, it insisted, "retain ultimate discretion on how to spend these funds".

While the European Commission would have preferred "should" to be replaced with "shall", it has endorsed the Council's first-reading vote.

Road freight sector balks at new tax

The EU ministers' position was criticised by road freight operators, who saw it as backing an additional tax that will increase the final price of goods.

Earmarking the revenue had already been discussed at a three-way meeting between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission in March, but no agreement was reached.

In addition to earmarking tax revenue, lawmakers want national finance ministers to declare toll revenues and how they are used. MEPs are asking for 15% of the money to be earmarked for trans-European TEN-T projects.

Acknowledging that the dossier is very complex and politically sensitive, Parliament's draftsman El Khadraoui said he believes that the lawmakers' vote represents "a balanced compromise which I think is a good basis for improving the Council's position".

But "if we do not manage to get a balanced agreement with the Council, we will need to go to conciliation," he added, speaking to the press after the vote.

The European Road Haulers Association (UETR) expressed its disappointment over the transport committee's decision. "The vote seems to finalise the framework for the internalisation of external costs for trucks but only transport companies seem to receive the bill while other modes of transport, including private cars, cause similar external costs. These taxes risk to cause only an increase of costs, without the guarantee of an actual improvement of the sector and of environmental sustainability."

"European haulers are also very opposed to the idea that vehicles meeting the requirements of euro VI norm, which are not even for sale today and (no sooner than 2013 the new standard), would be exempted from this extra charge for external costs for only three years. This period is too limited to encourage entrepreneurs to enhance investments in the best future technology. Moreover, euro III (or at least euro IV) have not been exempted but still represent a large part of EU businesses' fleets," it added in a statement.

According to green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), "the agreement is still a long way from allowing countries to charge the full costs of the damage that road freight transport causes, including congestion and climate change".

"Failing to tackle the problem of congestion, including an opt-out for charging lighter trucks (3.5 to 12 tonnes) and further limiting additional noise costs in mountainous areas are some of the gaps left open by today's decision," T&E said in a statement.

The Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER), an industry group, welcomed the Parliament transport committee's vote on Eurovignette, saying it was hoping for "a rapid conclusion to the legislative process by summer 2011".

CER welcomed in particular the committee's insistance that revenues raised by charging be re-invested to make transport more sustainable and optimise the transport system as a whole.

"The European Commission made clear in the recent Transport White Paper the importance of giving the right price signals and internalising external costs," said CER Executive Director Johannes Ludewig. "Reaching an agreement on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive is essential if these wider proposals can be taken forward," he added.

In July 2008, the European Commission proposed to revise the Eurovignette Directive, which allows EU member states to charge trucks to offset pollution costs.

The proposal is part of the Commission's strategy for internalising the external costs of transport, a train of initiatives intended to make transport more environmentally friendly by extending the "user pays" principle to the "polluter pays" principle.

The current directive states that toll rates should not exceed the cost of maintaining and building infrastructure, and prohibits the recovery of other "external costs" such as air pollution and noise.

The aim of the revision is to develop a transport pricing system to cover these "negative environmental impacts" of road freight.

The European Parliament's first reading on the proposal took place in March 2009, but the bill was later blocked in the Council for some 18 months.

EU transport ministers from the 27-country bloc finally agreed, by a small margin, on a compromise agreement in October 2010.

  • By 18 April 2011: Council and Parliament delegates to meet to discuss the dossier.
  • 6 June 2011: Parliament plenary vote on Eurovignette.

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