The European Commission on Thursday launched legal action against Germany over its introduction of road tolls amid concerns that they may discriminate against other EU citizens.
Brussels/Berlin (dpa) - The system, which has been signed into law but has not yet been implemented, is similar to that in place in neighbouring Switzerland, where foreign motorists must buy a road-sticker to use the country‘s motorways.
The scheme for a road toll is a concession to Bavaria‘s Christian Social Union (CSU), a junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s coalition government. Many Bavarians resent road charging in nearby Austria and Switzerland.
The scheme is a concession to Bavaria‘s Christian Social Union (CSU), a junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s coalition government. Many Bavarians resent road charging in nearby Austria and Switzerland.
The annual cost of the German sticker would be around 130 euros (146 dollars) per car. For German motorists, the current road tax would be split into an annual road charge and a vehicle tax.
German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt
The EU‘s executive has "serious doubts" that the system respects the bloc‘s principle of non-discrimination, according to its top transport official, Violeta Bulc.
The commission notes that Germans will effectively not pay the road charge, "because their vehicle tax bill will be reduced by the exact amount of the charge."
It also argues that the cost of using German motorways for a short period of time - as would be the case for visitors to the country - is "disproportionately high."
The EU executive is initially informing Germany of its concerns in a formal letter of notice, giving Berlin two months to respond. It can then refer member states to the bloc‘s top court and propose hefty fines if they are in breach of EU law.
European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc reacts after the crash of a Germanwings Airbus 320 plane, on the sidelines of a news conference on EU road safety statistics for 2014 at the EU Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 24 March 2015.
The German government indicated Thursday that it would delay the launch of the scheme until its legality was settled.
Bulc welcomed the announcement by Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, expressing hope that it would pave the way for a "good, constructive dialogue" with Berlin over the coming months.
The minister‘s tone had been less conciliatory in remarks carried by German daily Bild.
"I will tough this out with Brussels. The European Court of Justice will be the ultimate arbiter," Dobrindt, a member of the CSU, had told the newspaper.
A poll earlier this year for Germany‘s ZDF public television showed 50 per cent of Germans approve of the road charge and 47 per cent oppose it. Proponents say it would end the injustice of foreigners using maintenance-intensive roads in Germany for free.
Both north-south traffic from Scandinavia to Italy and east-west flows from France to Poland cross Germany. Trucks already pay tolls by the kilometre.
Germany will use an electronic monitoring system that registers the number plates of every vehicle for which a charge has been paid on the country‘s autobahns. Offenders risk being pulled over and receiving heavy fines.
Dobrindt estimated when the bill passed parliament that the "infrastructure levy" would bring in 500 million euros annually - money that could be spent on improving German roads.
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