News

After Luxembourg deal, the real fight on lorry tolls begins

May 15, 2005

The Commission’s proposal to revise the current directive on road charges for lorries, the Eurovignette, has given transport ministers a hard time. After more than a year of discussion and failure to reach agreement in three transport Council meetings, the Luxembourg presidency last month presented a proposal acceptable to 19 of the 25 ministers.

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Great! The deadlock has finally been broken and the EU will now get a pricing system for lorries which makes users and polluters pay. Wrong. For two reasons.

First, the recent decision by transport ministers merely ends the first reading of the EU co-decision process. The legislation will now get a second reading in the European Parliament and the transport Council. If the two can’t agree on a text, conciliation will be needed to find a common position. All concerned stakeholders expect conciliation, or as a representative of the council said: the real discussion begins now!

Second, and more important, even if we were at the end of the legislative process, the text in its current form would not bring us closer to a fair and efficient pricing system for lorries. Under the proposed directive, member states can apply distance and emissions-based charges, or continue with time-related user charges (“vignette” or “Eurovignette”), but they can also operate without any charging system if they wish.

EU legislation should encourage member states to implement instruments which support EU policies, but this doesn’t do that. Almost half a century of economic research shows that pricing instruments increase the efficiency of an economy and the welfare of society. These are basic objectives of the EU, and the common transport policy white paper of 2001 confirmed the need to bring transport prices for all modes closer to the costs to society. However, the Commission first failed in its promise to provide a framework for pricing for all transport, and then presented a proposal for lorry charging which would prevent member states from applying fair and efficient charges rather than encourage them.

Thanks to campaigning by T&E and other freight-transport stakeholders, some progress has been made. Transport ministers and MEPs now agree that member states should be allowed to apply distance charging on all roads and to use the revenues as they wish. MEPs also support a third and most important point: that the costs of environmental and health damage can be included in lorry tolls.

But transport ministers have been most reluctant with regard to these external costs. Despite long discussions over the past year, they have not seriously considered including them. On the contrary, they have focused mainly on how best to protect peripheral states from toll systems in central European countries. This is exactly the opposite of encouraging the polluter pays principle. And it has meant a hard fight for environmentally aware countries – Germany may have to lower its motorway toll currently at €0.124 per kilometre.

Yet there is no real need for prolonged discussions on how to protect member states against discriminatory measures within the European Union – these are banned under the European Treaty. There is still a lot to play for with the Eurovignette directive. Get ready for the next round, and for the real fight!

This news story is taken from the May 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.