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E.U. Experts Say Germany’s Planned Toll on Foreign Drivers Illegal

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The European Union forbids discriminating against a member country, setting up legal hurdles to Germany’s plan to levy a toll on foreign motorists.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The Transport Ministry estimates a toll on foreign drivers would raise €600 million ($802 million) annually.
    • Germany’s federal authorities maintain 50,000 kilometers (31,100 miles) of roads. States are responsible for 85,000 kilometers and cities and towns, 90,000.
    • The cost of building 1 kilometer of highway in Germany is €8.24 million ($11 million), according to World Highways magazine.
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    Audio

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A toll road to nowhere? Source: DPA

 

Constitutional law experts surveyed by Handelsblatt questioned the legality of Germany’s plans to levy a road toll only on foreign drivers and not on German citizens.

The proposal as it stands cannot be brought into accord with European law, according to Joachim Wieland, a constitutional specialist from Speyer. “A plan that only impinges on foreigners is inherently discriminatory,” he told Handelsblatt.

Right before parliament’s summer recess, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt laid out the basics of the planned toll, which was widely criticized by his own conservatives and their coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party. The organization responsible for providing independent scholarly research to parliament also expressed doubts that the plan follows European Union law.

Starting in 2016, Mr. Dobrindt wants an “infrastructure charge” not only on highways, but also on all roads. The coalition agreement, on the other hand, envisions a “toll on passenger vehicles… to require owners of passenger vehicles not registered in Germany to contribute to highway expenditures, without further burdening domestically registered vehicles.” It is intended to promote “the additional financing of the maintenance and extension of our highway system.” There is no mention of state and local roads, however.

“With legislation establishing a passenger-vehicle toll on all roadways, the federal government is appropriating quite a lot of jurisdiction for itself,” said Mr. Wieland. “But that does not allow it to collect fees on state and local roadways.”

Those authorities would have the right to those revenues, he said, and they would have to agree to such measures in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament representing Germany’s 16 states.

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