EU officials, ministers and the media described the agreement on 21 April as a breakthrough that could allow the revision of the current (1999) directive, first published by the Commission in July 2003, to complete its legislative passage sometime in 2006.
Some of the changes made from the original text were ones T&E had called for, but the agreement still limits member states to charging for infrastructure, which means road tolls cannot cover the costs of environmental and health damage. This prompted a T&E-led coalition of environmental NGOs, trade unions and transport industry groups to issue a statement saying the transport ministers had “rejected a clean and competitive Europe”.
T&E policy officer Markus Liechti said: “We are happy that several of the things we said were unacceptable have now been removed, but the central point we have always made is that if you want fair prices – which is what this directive is supposed to be about – you need to include all costs, especially health and environmental costs.”
“This is not just frustrating for environmental groups, it’s frustrating for Europe’s economy. Recent calculations put the environmental and health damage caused by lorries in the EU at €170 billion. If that is not charged to the lorry operators, the economy will continue to have serious distortions, which will make existing problems worse. That’s why this is a missed opportunity – an opportunity for reducing labour taxes or fun-ding innovation.”
In other changes to the original text, the requirement for distance-based charges on lorries to be limited to motorways (and roads belonging to the trans-European transport network) has been removed, which would allow member states to charge for lorries on all roads if they wanted to.
And the requirement for money raised by the Eurovignette charges to be used for transport infrastructure has also been largely removed, though with a recommendation that it be used for transport. The only obligation would be where additional charges are levied in ecologically sensitive areas then the extra money would have to be used for alternatives to roads.
Central proposals in the original draft that have remained in the agreed text include applying the charges to all vehicles above 3.5 tonnes (the current charges start at 12 tonnes), and allowing a differentiation according to the European emissions rating of lorries.
T&E is still hoping permission to charge for environmental damage can be included in the final text. The ministers’ agreement has to go to the European Parliament, and in their debate on the draft legislation in April 2004, MEPs expressed support for the inclusion of external costs.
“It is the MEPs’ job to represent the interests of citizens,” Liechti added. “Therefore we expect they will stand up for the protection of human health, safety and the environment.”
Road transport groups were also critical of the agreement, though for different reasons. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) said it was frustrated that the obligation for revenue to be spent on road building had been removed. “If Europe is serious about reducing its growing congestion,” an IRU statement said, “it needs to make up for decades of underinvestment in its road infrastructure.”
This news story is taken from the May 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.