If German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt has his way, the days of passenger cars using the country’s extensive autobahn network for free are numbered.
After a several-month dispute, the European Commission on Thursday gave the green light to the minister’s new plan to introduce a highway road toll.
But the plan drew immediate opposition from neighboring countries, particularly the Netherlands, which intends to file a case against Germany with the European Court of Justice
Dutch transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen told Dutch media Thursday that Austria, Belgium and Denmark might also join the complaint.
Austria criticized the compromise sharply. Transport minister Jörg Leichtfried said the deal, despite changes, still discriminated against other European drivers.
Anton Heinzl with the ruling Social Democratic Party of Austria told radio station Deutschlandfunk that if the government proved this to be the case, it would fight the toll “with all resources.”
“If it turns out that Austrians are discriminated against, then we will fight this toll by all means and, of course, with legal means.”
The original road toll plan, approved by the German government last year, targeted foreign motorists only. German drivers would be able to recoup their payment from a reduction to their road taxes.
But the European Commission complained the proposals were discriminatory under E.U. rules and began an infringement procedure, which is launched when a state contravenes with key E.U. treaties.
Under the deal, which could generate up to €500 million ($530 million), Germany will introduce a highway toll for cars registered abroad with prices linked to environmental criteria. More environmentally-friendly cars will pay less, with a minimum of €2.50 for a 10-day pass and a maximum of €20. The maximum annual cost for a foreign vehicle would be €130.
Vehicles registered in Germany will pay the toll but receive tax deductions based on emissions levels.
“But if you live in Austria and pay your taxes here, you can’t claim back the German toll fees as a tax deduction,” Bernhard Wiesinger, the chief lobbyist at the Austrian ÖAMTC automobile club, told Handelsblatt Global.
In Austria, Mr. Wiesinger added, all drivers, whether they are Austrian or foreign residents, “pay the same road toll.”
If the German toll were implemented in its current form, he said the Austrian automobile club would support motorists’ legal actions against the tolls.
But Germany’s neighbors aren’t the only ones concerned about road tolls. Drivers in southern Germany regularly complain about tolls in Austria, Switzerland or France.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor at Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.