Germany’s planned highway toll may see legal action from Prague

Photo: Tim Reckmann, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Czech Republic is considering joining an international court case against a planned highway toll on Germany’s historically free autobahns that critics say would discriminate foreign drivers. Transport officials from 11 EU member states, including the Czech Republic, met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider the legal possibilities.

Photo: Tim Reckmann,  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The costs of maintaining Germany’s extensive autobahn network have increased pressure to charge drivers on the country’s historically free motorways. While that is seen as a reasonable argument, the government’s plans for a road toll have raised the ire of many EU member states for allegedly laying the toll burden on foreigners only.

According to the proposed tolling system, which is expected to collect some 3.7 billion euros annually, German drivers would be able to deduct the toll costs from the vehicle tax they are already paying. The owners of highly ecological cars would actually profit from the system since they would be paying less than at present. This would in effect leave only foreign drivers paying the levy –depending on the amount of emissions they produce.

This elicited a complaint from Brussels and following lengthy discussions with the EC, Germany last year amended the bill so that foreign citizens who pay tax in Germany would also be entitled to the said tax relief and there would be a wider variety of short-term cheaper vignettes for foreign drivers.

However, these concessions are not seen as adequate by the country’s immediate neighbours. Austria and the Netherlands have issued a strong protest pointing out that their drivers will not be compensated for driving ecologically-friendly vehicles. At Vienna’s initiative 11 EU member states met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider jointly suing Germany over the planned highway toll. Czech Transport Minister Dan Ťok said the planned toll was clearly unfair.

Dan Ťok,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Foreign drivers who will need to buy a vignette in Germany will in effect be subsidizing the German government’s efforts to increase the number of environmentally friendly cars on German roads and I do not consider that to be fair.”

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said, following Wednesday’s consultations, that the Czech Republic would consider joining an international complaint if the terms of the German tolling system prove to be discriminatory to foreigners. “The Czech government is here to protect the interests of Czech citizens and I believe that the EU should guarantee equal rights and duties for all,” the prime minister noted.

Minister Ťok said the Czech Republic still did not have the final version of the proposed law on the new road toll at its disposal, but once it was available it would commission an expert analysis and if it was found to be discriminatory to foreign drivers would consider legal action.

The proposed road toll bill still needs to win approval in the German Parliament.