Today the European Commission has stepped up legal action against specific road charging systems in Germany and the United Kingdom which do not respect the EU’s Single Market rules.
Today the European Commission has stepped up legal action against specific road charging systems in Germany and the United Kingdom which do not respect the EU’s Single Market rules. The Commission supports the “user and polluter pays” principle according to which drivers pay road charges that can then be used to support infrastructure maintenance. Different models of road charges are possible and, indeed, most Member States in the EU have put such charges in place. It is the Commission’s duty – as Guardian of the Treaties – to ensure that such charges do not discriminate between domestic and foreign drivers in the EU. In a number of other cases, including Austria, Belgium, Hungary and Slovenia, the Commission has helped Member States to devise road charges in a way that complies with EU law. In two outstanding cases, however, the Commission must now take action to protect drivers from discrimination based on nationality.
The first case concerns Germany’s law of 8 June 2015 introducing a road charging scheme for cars. At the same time, Germany passed a law ensuring that only vehicles registered in Germany benefit from a deduction of the road charge from their annual vehicle tax bill. This 1:1 deduction of the vehicle tax from the road charge would lead to a de facto exemption from the charge, exclusively for cars registered in Germany. The Commission believes that this arrangement discriminates against drivers from other Member States for two reasons. First, because only German users will not effectively pay the road charge, as their vehicle tax bill will be reduced by the exact amount of the road charge. And second, because the price of short-term toll passes, which are typically bought by foreign drivers, is disproportionally high for certain vehicles.
Despite numerous exchanges with the German authorities since November 2014, and many suggestions by the Commission on how to render the German scheme compatible with EU law, the Commission’s fundamental concerns have not been addressed. Therefore, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Germany on 18 June 2015 which is going into the second stage today. In its Reasoned Opinion of today, the European Commission calls on Germany to bring its legislation into line with EU law within two months. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.
The second case relates to the introduction of a time-based road charge for Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) in the United Kingdom in April 2014. After thorough analysis, the Commission has today set out its concern that the HGV levy discriminates against non-UK hauliers. In its letter of formal notice – the first stage in infringement proceedings – the Commission has requested further explanations from the UK authorities. The United Kingdom has two months to respond to the concerns put forward by the Commission. Should the Commission consider the reply unsatisfactory in addressing these concerns it will consider moving to the next stage of infringement proceedings and sending a Reasoned Opinion to the UK.