Parliament rejects Council’s ecopoints deal

On 12 February 2003, the European Parliament rejected the Transport Council’s agreement on the extension of the ecopoints system for heavy lorry transit through Austria. It proposed a less restrictive system to be applied only to three Alpine passes, not to Austria as a whole.

The European Parliament voted in favour of the report drafted by Luciano Caveri (ELDR, I), by 430 votes to 79.

The report limits the scope of the proposed regulation to cover only transit through three Alpine passes, and not Austria as a whole. Also, restrictions would apply to some categories of heavy goods vehicles only.

From 2004, only the transit of older lorries would be restricted, while cleaner lorries – almost half of the vehicles passing through Austria – would be given free passage. From 2005, the oldest and most polluting vehicles would be banned completely, and quotas would apply only to one remaining category of vehicles.

The Council’s agreement is much closer to the current ecopoint system. It covers lorry transit through the whole of Austria, and allocates ecopoints to most vehicles except the oldest ones.

 

TheGreens/EFAvoted against the report, saying that a maximum limit on lorry journeys, already abolished in the Commission's proposal, should have been maintained.

Austrian environmentalistsharshly criticised the "factual pull-down of any restrictions" to the Alpine transit. They are now considering pressing for a year-round ban on night traffic for lorries of over 7.5 tons and sectoral bans for certain freight.

According to theAustrian transport ministry, following the proposal would mean that nearly 80 per cent of lorries would be exempt from the restrictions.

EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacioalso questioned the Parliament's proposal, saying that "a totally different system for a period of two or three years makes no sense". The solution retained should not diverge too far from the current ecopoints system, the Commissioner said.

In December, the AustrianEU Commissioner Franz Fischlerhad criticised Austria's negotiation strategy. It could not be expected that Brussels agrees to turn the whole of Austria into a sensitive zone, he said. Therefore, Vienna should decide: Does it want a loose deal for Austria or a strikt one for the Alpine passes?

 

On 31 December 2002, the Transport Council achieved a compromise regarding the extension of the ecopoint system to control heavy lorry transit through Austria. The agreement was supported by the Commission, but opposed by Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The Parliament’s report, adopted by the Transport Committee on 21 January 2003, discards the Council's proposal as not restrictive enough (see

EURACTIV 11 February 2003).

 

The Greek presidency is expected to put the item on the agenda of the 27 March Transport Council. Following the adoption of the Council's final conclusions, there will be a second reading in the Parliament. In view of the major differences between Parliament and Council, however, a conciliation procedure seems likely.

If no solution can be found by the end of the year, the ecopoint system will run out for good.

Any transitional system agreed would be valid pending the entry into force of the Commission’s proposals on infrastructure pricing. The latter include a Communication on transport infrastructure charges, due to come out during the first quarter of 2003, and a proposal on amending the “Eurovignette” Directive (Directive 1999/62) which is expected during the first half of 2003.

 

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