Amid opposition from centre-right MEPs, the European Parliament yesterday (11 March) backed the EU executive in its call to allow national governments to charge heavy goods vehicles for the noise they make and the environmental pollution and congestion they cause.
The EU assembly adopted a report – drafted by Belgian Socialist MEP Saïd El Khadraoui – with 359 votes in favour and 256 votes against, amid 86 abstentions.
But the EPP-ED group voted against the proposal, because centre-right MEPs are opposed to its call for a congestion charge of up to €0.65 per kilometre.
“A new congestion charge does not belong in this proposal. There are already plenty of opportunities for member states to charge congestion in urban areas. The aim of this proposal is greening transport. A congestion charge has limited environmental effect, while hampering economic growth,” said the group’s Dutch spokeswoman, MEP Corien Wortmann-Kool.
However, the EPP-ED group supports the inclusion of air pollution and noise among trucks’ chargeable external costs.
Despite the narrow vote, Parliament’s rapporteur on the file El Khadraoui welcomed the result, saying the report represented a first step in the process of introducing the ‘polluter pays’ principle to the road transport sector. “The strategy is also perfectly in line with the EU’s commitment to the fight against climate change,” he added.
El Khadraoui reiterated the fact that the proposed revision of the existing Eurovignette Directive remains voluntary, allowing member states to internalise external costs if they so choose.
Meanwhile, the bloc’s 27 member states remain bitterly divided over whether to allow for this possibility, with peripheral countries fearing that the directive could hamper their competitiveness and access to the internal market should key freight transit countries, such as France, decide to profit from the new optional charging possibilities.
The Council has not made any major progress towards reaching political agreement on the dossier since the French EU Presidency’s failed attempt to do so late last year (EURACTIV 10/12/08). Meanwhile, the Czech EU Presidency wants to get a political agreement by June.
No serious progress on the dossier is expected before the autumn, when the next Parliament takes office.