Compromise delays external charges indefinitely

December 20, 2005

The long-running revision of the EU’s Eurovignette directive on charging heavy goods vehicles for using Europe’s roads was due to reach a climax just before Christmas.

As Bulletin went to press, MEPs were preparing to vote on a compromise solution aimed at avoiding a difficult conciliation procedure between the European Parliament and ministers. The compromise came shortly after MEPs on the parliament’s transport committee voted in favour of allowing member states to charge for external costs, a direct contradiction to the position of ministers which said only road infrastructure costs could be included in road user charges.

Under the compromise put forward by the British presidency, members will not be allowed to charge for external costs (described as environment, noise, congestion and health costs) until a methodology is agreed for this and the Eurovignette directive is revised again. Campaigners fear this could be another delaying tactic.

T&E policy offer Markus Liechti said: “The vote in the transport committee by MEPs was the clearest signal from any EU body that you cannot have a sustainable transport policy without charging the full social and environmental costs to transport users, but now we have a situation where such charging has effectively been postponed indefinitely.”

The Commission’s initial draft revision of the Eurovignette directive in July 2003 prevented environmental and health costs being included in road user charges. They were introduced by the MEPs in 2004, only to be removed again by transport ministers nine months ago.

Following a series of compromise amendments tabled by the centre-right Dutch MEP Corien Wortmann-Kool, the European Parliament last month reintroduced the right to charge for external costs. The amendments included a requirement for the Commission to propose a methodology for charging for external costs within two years, and if that were not approved after a further three years, governments would be allowed to charge for external costs up to 60% of infrastructure costs.

Though the requirement for the methodology is in the UK presidency compromise, there is no “fallback” option of 60% or any other figure. Liechti added: “If the MEPs’ vote had been confirmed, it would still have delayed internalising external costs for another five years, when all the time the methodology is available and the unpaid costs of heavy goods road transport amounts to €170 billion every year. Now the delay could be even longer.”

There were some minor concessions for environmental NGOs in the compromise. Countries can apply road user charges to the entire road network rather than just motorways and roads of near-motorway standard, the charges are also likely to apply to all vehicles above 3.5 tonnes after a transition period (transport ministers wanted it to stay at the current 12 tonnes starting weight), and member states will be able to levy “additional regulatory charges” for congestion and environmental purposes.

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

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