European Commission proposes harmonisation of road charging schemes, July 2003

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Series Details 31.7.03
Publication Date 31/07/2003
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The European Commission adopted a controversial proposal for an EU framework for the charging of commercial vehicles on 23 July 2003, as part of its ongoing efforts to ease transport flows in the EU, which officials say is crucial for the functioning of the Union's single market.

The proposal seeks to improve the existing framework for national road use fees in the Member States by aligning national systems of tolls and road use charges on common principles. The framework would cover the trans-European road network, about 60,000 km of tarmac, and would apply to all lorries exceeding 3.5 metric tonnes used for good transport. Road charges would be calculated according to the costs of accident and environmental damages on the relevant roads in addition to the existing criteria on building and maintenance. Member States will also have the option of varying tolls according to the distance travelled, the time of day and the level of congestion on the road concerned. For the first time, EU governments would also be entitled to redirect a share of the revenue from the road tolls to fund rail links, which the European Commission believes lack investment. The European Commission hopes that by introducing these measures, it will achieve three specific objectives:

  1. To pass on costs more accurately
  2. To improve the quality of service
  3. To allow the cross-financing of infrastructure construction in sensitive areas.

The plans follow on from the critical report produced by Karl Van Miert's high level group, which was established in January 2003 to review the trans-European network for transport guidelines and which highlighted the lack of investment in Europe's transport infrastructure. The European Commission has called on Member States to spend up to €600bn on transport infrastructure over the next two decades.

However, the infrastructure charging policy, which will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, is expected to meet with stiff opposition from some of the EU's Member States. While Germany and Austria - the location of many European transit routes - are in favour of tougher legislation to allow them to recoup more costs from their motorways and roads, countries on the EU's perimeter such as Finland and Greece are keen to limit the costs for their truckers amidst fears that the proposed policy would lead to significant extra costs for freight businesses and could damage the export trade.

The UK Freight Transport Association (FTA), one stakeholder to have responded to the proposals, has welcomed the European Commission's plan as 'recognition of a need for a like-for-like, transparent charging process across the whole internal market'. However Simon Chapman, the FTA's chief economist, has warned against pricing freight off the road and relying on the scheme to fund investment in other infrastructure, saying:

'Certainly in the UK, road is and will remain the dominant mode requiring the lion's share of investment.'

Of the other relevant stakeholders the environmental group, the European Federation for Transport and the Environment, has strongly criticised the proposal, warning that it is 'a recipe for greater environmental destruction across Europe' and has called on the European Commission to withdraw its proposal and 'develop a better one' before consultation begins with the Member States and the European Parliament.

European Commission:
23.07.03: Press Release: Charging for transport infrastructure use: the Commission proposes a revision of the current Community framework [IP/03/1097]
DG Transport: Transport Infrastructure Charging Policy
DG Transport: Proposal on the charging of heavy goods vehicles for the use for certain infrastructures [COM(2003) 448 final]
European Sources Online: Financial Times:
23.07.03: Brussels likely to back road toll overhaul
Freight Transport Association:
23.07.03: Press Release: Road tolls: Keep it simple, keep it fair
European Federation for Transport and Environment:
T&E position paper on proposed Eurovignette revision
European Sources Online: Topic Guides:
Common Transport Policy
Trans-European Networks

Helen Bower

Compiled: Thursday, 31 July 2003

The European Commission adopted a proposal for an EU framework for the charging of commercial vehicles on 23 July 2003.

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