Road Finance

Fearing Discrimination Against Other E.U. Drivers, Europe Warns Germany Against Auto Highway Tolls

Could Germany's planned toll penalize German diesel car owners? Source: DPA
Could Germany's planned toll penalize German diesel car owners?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany is one of the few European nations without auto highway tolls. A new government plan would target only foreign drivers, raising E.U. fairness concerns.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germans strongly support expanding highway tolls to foreigner drivers, but few want to only single them out.
    • Many details still need to be worked out including how tolls would be levied on diesel- and gasoline-powered cars.
    • Fears are rising that the bureaucratic costs of collection might negate income from the tolls.
  • Audio

    Audio

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As debate rages in Berlin’s political circles about the government’s controversial plan to charge non-German drivers for using the nation’s roadways, the European Commission is raising new concerns about potential discrimination against diesel car owners.

What, exactly, does Brussels need to know in order to effectively evaluate the proposal? How will the Commission determine if the toll violates the European Union’s anti-discrimination laws? Opinions within the E.U.’s executive body are as divided as its actions. For example, the Commission’s legal service is seeking far more information from the German government than E.U. Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas considers necessary.

A source familiar with the E.U. concerns told Handelsblatt that Commission lawyers have put together a catalog of questions for Berlin to determine if the road tax planned by Alexander Dobrindt, Germany’s minister of transport, is a form of covert discrimination.

“It involves very difficult points of detail,” the source said. “The whole concept could be shot to pieces.”

Mr. Dobrindt proposes an infrastructure fee on all roads for vehicles with a total weight of 3.5 tons beginning in 2016. He would exempt German drivers because they already pay a motor vehicle tax.

Germany is one of the few European nations without a national toll for cars. Virtually all of its neighbors – Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Poland and Switzerland – charge all drivers, foreign and domestic, to use their roadways. But Berlin’s proposal varies by targeting only non-German drivers.

A poll conducted by the German automobile club ADAC found that only 8 percent of respondents favored a road tax on all drivers, but 52 percent support tolls for foreign drivers.

But if Brussels warns of putting foreigners at a disadvantage, where does the discrimination begin? Could some German drivers also be unfairly penalized?

The cost of an annual tax sticker for German cars is determined by the classifications under the country’s motor vehicle tax law. Owners of diesel-powered cars pay a comparatively higher fee than those with gasoline vehicles under German law, but since more diesel vehicles are on the streets and roads of Germany than outside it, German owners would, on average, still be paying more of a road fee than foreigners. The E.U.’s legal service argues this could even be seen as discriminatory against German nationals in favor of visiting foreigners.

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