Case C-591/17 | Austria v Germany

Author (Corporate)
Series Details C-591/17
Publication Date 2017-2019
Content Type


Judgment from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) over the implementation of the so-called 'foreigner tolls' in German motorways.

Further information:

Germany adopted a law in 2015 providing for the levy of a charge for use of federal roads (in particular motorways) with vehicles with a weight of less than 3.5 tonnes, the so-called 'infrastructure charge'. For vehicles registered in Germany, the charge must be paid upfront, in the form of an annual vignette, by the vehicle owner. For vehicles registered abroad, the obligation to pay the infrastructure charge is imposed either on the owner or on the driver and arises on the first use of federal roads after the crossing of a national border. For such vehicles there are three options: a ten-day vignette, a two-month vignette and an annual vignette. Once the collection of the infrastructure charge has started, owners of domestic vehicles benefit from a tax relief on the motor vehicle tax in an amount that corresponds to the amount of the infrastructure charge.

Austria considers that Germany infringed a number of provisions of EU law by establishing the infrastructure charge (also known as Pkw-Maut). In particular, the combined effect of the infrastructure charge and the tax relief for owners of domestic vehicles is that, in practice, only drivers of vehicles registered in other Member States (‘foreign vehicles’) are subject to the infrastructure charge, thereby giving rise to indirect discrimination on grounds of nationality. As the European Commission decided to terminate an infringement procedure that it had initiated against Germany, Austria brought an infringement action against Germany before the CJEU. This became one of the very few cases to date in which a Member State started an infringement procedure against another Member State.

In his Opinion published on 6February 2019, the CJEU Advocate General proposed that the Court of Justice dismissed the action brought by Austria against Germany, as Austria based arguments on what was seen as a 'fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of discrimination'. However, the judgment published on 18 June considers that the charge is discriminatory since the economic burden of the charge falls, de facto, solely on the owners and drivers of vehicles registered in other Member States.

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Commentary and Analysis
Deutsche Welle, 11/12/2018: Europe's patchy approach to road tolls
Euro|topics, June 2019: Was ECJ right to rule against German road toll?

The Guardian, 02/12/2016: EU neighbours set to take Germany to court over motorway tax
Deutsche Welle, 13/12/2017: Netherlands to take Germany to court over road tax
Deutsche Welle, 06/02/2019: ECJ opinion sides against Austria over German autobahn toll
Reuters, 06/02/2019: EU court adviser sides against Austria over German road toll
EurActiv, 12/02/2019: German car toll and deportation law stokes EU criticism in Austria
Deutsche Welle, 18/06/2019: ECJ set to rule on German autobahn tolls
BBC News, 18/06/2019: German road toll discriminates against foreigners - ECJ
Bloomberg, 18/06/2019: Germany Plan to Charge Foreign Highway Drivers Vetoed by Court
Deutsche Welle, 18/06/2019: EU court rules against autobahn tolls
The Local (Austria), 18/06/2019: 'Foreigner toll' on German Autobahn network ruled illegal by EU court
Reuters, 18/06/2019: EU court forces Germany to rethink 'unfair' highway toll
Euronews, 18/06/2019: Europe's top court rules that German autobahn levy proposal discriminates against foreign drivers

CJEU: Press Release, 06/02/2019: Advocate General’s Opinion in Case C-591/17 Austria v Germany
CJEU: Press Release, 18/06/2019: Judgment in Case C-591/17 Austria v Germany

ESO Records
Implemention of road charging scheme for cars in Germany

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