Austria celebrates demise of German motorway tolls

Austria celebrates demise of German motorway tolls

The European Court of Justice ruling against Germany’s plans to introduce a highway toll has reopened the debate about a European Union-wide motorway toll.

Austria, which took the case to the court, welcomed the ruling.

“The judges of the European Court of Justice have declared the German car toll to be discriminatory, which fortunately created greater clarity,” said Austrian Transport Minister Andreas Reichhardt, adding that it was a “clear call to ensure fairness and a common internal market”.

The court ruled that Germany’s legal framework for the introduction of a charge to use federal roads, including motorways, contravened EU rules.

Germany was also legislating for owners of vehicles registered in Germany to qualify for relief from a motor vehicle tax that would be at least equivalent to the new charge.

The owners of German-registered cars would get a refund on their vehicle tax equivalent to the price of the ticket – up to €130. Foreigners would, however, pay the full price. Sales were scheduled to begin in October next year.

The court in Luxembourg said the policy constituted indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality and infringed the EU principles of free movement of goods and services.

The judges said member states were entitled to alter road infrastructure revenue models.

“However, such alteration must comply with EU law, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination, which is not so in the present case,” the court said. Germany had failed to show how shifting the financial burden of the charge on to non-German vehicle owners “could be justified by environmental or other considerations”.

Unusually, the court went against the advice of one of its advocates general who said the plan would not discriminate against foreigners since they were exempt from the German vehicle tax.

For German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer of Bavaria’s Christian Social Party (CSU) said the decision was “regrettable” and “surprising”.

He said he did not expect the decision because the public prosecutor had agreed on all points regarding the German toll policy and because the European Commission had already announced that it would accept the plans.

Construction of the German autobahn is financed by the federal government but maintained by the individual states. That system is being changed. A government-owned company, Die Autobahn des Bundes, was set up last year to take over the running of the motorway network. Around 15,000 staff are being moved under the control of the Berlin-based company.

Germany’s motorways are in need of updating. Picture credit: Wikimedia

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e1/Süd_Autobahn_bei_Nacht.jpg/1024px-Süd_Autobahn_bei_Nacht.jpg

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