Under threat of lawsuit from Brussels, the German transport minister said today he will delay by a year his plan to impose nationwide tolls on non-German motorists using the country’s highways.
The announcement this morning by Alexander Dobrindt, a Bavarian member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, could spell the beginning of a long, quiet death for the plan, which has raised objections for targeting only non-German motorists.
Mr. Dobrindt announced the delay just ahead of a European Commission announcement that it would take Germany to court over tolls it had planned to begin imposing next year. European regulators say the German plan, which would partially offset the cost of the tolls to German taxpayers through reduced annual motor vehicle taxes, violates the E.U. charter.
“A toll system can only be compliant with European law if it respects the fundamental Treaty principle of non-discrimination. We have serious doubts that this is the case in the final text of the relevant German laws,” the E.U. transport commissioner, Violeta Bulc, said in a statement.
The E.U. suit, called an infringement proceeding in Brussels parlance, could end up before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Mr. Dobrindt said the German government is determined to proceed with its plans to introduce Germany’s first autobahn road toll on passenger motorists, but there is now a risk the controversial plan will be canceled.
The German government has been at loggerheads with the European Commission and European Parliament over the toll plan, which it claims will help offset the cost of building and maintaining Germany’s network of highways that play a crucial role in connecting countries in Europe.
The heart of E.U. opposition comes from the fact that the toll appears to be paid only by foreigners. All drivers will have to pay the toll in the form of an annual pass, but while German drivers will be able to deduct that amount from the vehicle taxes they pay each year, foreign drivers will not.
Michael Cramer, chair of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee and a Green party member, told Handelsblatt Global Edition he believed the plan was dead.
“Mr. Dobrindt said the plan is delayed but it will be canceled,” he said.