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German road toll scheme would breach EU non-discrimination rule, say MEPs

Germany’s planned road toll scheme for private cars would discriminate against foreign drivers, even though changes to it have been accepted by the EU Commission, say MEPs in a resolution voted on Wednesday. 

They argue that the scheme would breach EU law by allowing German drivers to deduct toll costs from their vehicle tax, even though foreigners cannot do so.

Because even the revised scheme would allow only Germans to deduct toll costs, it “does not impose an additional burden on German drivers and therefore maintains an indirect discrimination based on nationality”, MEPs say in the resolution, adopted by 510 votes to 126, with 55 abstentions.

They ask the Commission to say why it considered the revised plans sufficient to justify suspending the infringement proceedings against Germany.

“The Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, must monitor the correct implementation and application of the law after its adoption”, said Transport and Tourism Committee chair Karima Delli (Greens/EFA, FR), who tabled the motion on the committee’s behalf.

MEPs also ask the Commission to provide relevant information on its analysis of the new “PKW-Maut” measures presented by the German authorities and their conformity with EU law.

Any national road charging system that directly discriminates based on nationality or when combined with national tax measures to the benefit of only nationals from a given member state, “e.g. a deduction from the national vehicle tax, thus pursuing the objective to charge primarily foreign users, constitutes a violation of the non-discriminatory principle enshrined in Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”, they say.

Framework for road charging systems

There is a need for common rules to establish a coherent, fair, non-discriminatory and harmonized framework for road charging systems for any type of vehicle in the EU, MEPs say. The forthcoming revision of the Eurovignette and European Electronic Toll Service (EETS) legislation would be an opportunity to establish such a framework, they add.

Background

The Commission was concerned that the original road toll scheme, adopted on 8 June 2015, would breach EU non-discrimination rules by allowing German drivers to deduct whatever they paid in tolls from their vehicle tax bills and by setting a the disproportionate price for a short-term vignette mainly used by foreign drivers.

It launched infringement proceedings against Germany on 18 June 2015, but then suspended them after reaching an agreement with the German Ministry of Transport Infrastructure on 1 December 2016 on a revised scheme.

Based on the “user/polluter pays” principle, many EU countries have introduced road tolls for cars on certain stretches of their road infrastructure. Although differing in design and pricing, the various systems in place apply indiscriminately to all users.

Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Croatia, Greece and Italy charge distance-based tariffs.

Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania use time-based “vignette” systems.

Germany, Nordic and Baltic countries, the Benelux and most of the UK still do not charge tolls on most of their networks.

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