The Czech Republic to become scrap yard of Europe?

The Lower House of Czech Parliament has recently passed a bill allowing for the import of second-hand cars up to 8 years old to the Czech Republic - the limit is currently five years. What some see as a way to make relatively good passenger cars available for more people, others warn it could make the Czech Republic Europe's scrap-yard. Vladimir Tax has the details.

Last June, the Czech Parliament adopted a new law which limited the age of imported second-hand cars to 5 years. Back then, used car importers blockaded the transport ministry in protest against the law which they saw as a serious threat to their business. According to the chairman of the Association of Used Car Importers, Jan Slawish, the turnover of used cars decreased by 70 percent as a result of the adoption of the law in 2001.

"The fact is that relatively good quality cars for prices around 100 000 have virtually disappeared from the market. The market is now divided into two categories -absolute scrap for prices of up to 30 thousand, and cars over 200 000, which are unaffordable for ordinary people in this country. The new law has in fact effectively prevented a continuous renewal of cars on Czech roads."

The smallest and cheapest car from local producer Skoda costs over 250 thousand CZK which is more than what Mr. Slawish calls the limit of common affordability. However, while increasing the age of imported cars to eight years is likely to make passenger cars accessible to more people, some have warned against increased exports of older cars. The Transport Minister Jaromir Schling said it could turn the Czech Republic into the scrap yard of Europe and the Association of the Automotive Industry voiced fears that older used cars will pose a safety and environmental threat.

The fact is that the average age of cars on Czech roads is 14 years, and over a third of them - 1.2 million - are older than 15 years. These cars by far exceed the emission limits and any change would be for the better.

A few days ago, the minister of labour and social affairs, Vladimir Spidla announced a plan to subsidise the purchase of new cars. Under the scheme, whoever scraps his or her old car and buys a new one at a price up to 250 thousand CZK, would receive a subsidy of 90 thousand crowns.

The latest plan may seem as a mere populist gesture, coming as it does just four months before the general elections in the country. Nevertheless, its proponents claim that it is meant as a way to improve road safety and environmental protection.

Unfortunately what has remained outside the debates on safety and environmental friendliness, is the fact that public transport systems are generally safer and environmentally sustainable as compared to individual transport.