Ministers fail to agree on ‘green’ road tolls

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A number of outstanding issues, including internalisation of the external costs of road congestion, must still be resolved before an update of the so-called ‘Eurovignette’ Directive on road charging can be agreed upon, it emerged after a meeting of EU transport ministers on 9 December. 

“Frankly speaking, I think that there is still work to be done because the interests of member states are different. It is a complex issue with many aspects,” said French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau after the meeting, commenting on the Eurovignette Directive on road charging (see EURACTIV Links Dossier). 

While ministers agreed they should look more consistently to the impact of transport on the environment, their conclusions on the ‘greening transport’ package merely take note of progress made so far and fail to adopt a strong position for or against charging drivers, including users of private cars, for congestion and environmental costs.

Ministers broadly supported the principle of internalisation of external costs in all modes of transport, but emphasised that such measures must take into account “the specificities of member states and of each mode of transport and the different possible policy measures and their environmental and economic effects”.

The French EU Presidency’s progress report on the dossier shows that a “significant number of issues remain outstanding” before agreement can be reached. 

Some delegations oppose the inclusion of congestion as a chargeable external cost on grounds of the peripheral geographic location of the member state, while others would accept this if private cars were also included. Some oppose the extension of the scope of the directive to cover the entire national road network, preferring to restrict it to the trans-European transport network (TEN-T). 

Methods of calculating external costs also proved controversial, with some delegations calling for more flexibility and expressing their desire to study the economic implications of applying the proposed formula first. Others argued that they did not possess technological means to implement the formula.

Some delegations opposed the proposed earmarking of charges to various measures contributing to the sustainability of transport. 

The legal basis chosen by the European Commission for the overall proposal is also being challenged, with some arguing that the common transport policy is not the right basis and taxation should be used instead.

For its part, the European rail sector “voiced regret” over the Council’s failure to reach an agreement on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive. 

“If Europe really wants to achieve a greening of its transport sector, the principle of internalisation of external costs must be introduced for road transport as well. The fact that trucks cannot be charged for their external costs, clearly favours the most polluting transport mode. While we understand that the current economic crisis creates difficulties, it is vital that the EU’s environmental targets must be met,” said Johannes Ludewig, executive director of EU rail lobby CER. 

Meanwhile, the International Road Transport Union, which represents trucks, argues that internalising external costs for road transport only, without proper cost-benefit analyses, will undermine the EU’s Lisbon goals of boosting growth, jobs and competitiveness and should be stopped, “especially in these times of recession”. “If the EU continues on this path, the revenues collected are likely to be used to further subsidise other transport modes without any environmental gain,” said IRU General Delegate to the EU Michael Nielsen. 

The aim of the Commission’s July proposal (July 2008) to revise the current Eurovignette Directive is to adapt the road-transport charging framework to enable member states to calculate and vary tolls on the basis of the external costs of road freight transport, in terms of air pollution, noise pollution and congestion, by introducing the principles of ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’. 

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