The Bundesrat finally passed Germany’s highway toll on Friday. The upper house of the German parliament, which is made up of the 16 state governments, voted through the bill despite significant resistance from states on Germany’s borders.
But the states opted not to raise objections and establish a mediation committee with the lower house, the Bundestag, which could have delayed the bill until after September’s election.
The vote ended a tortuous four-year legislative process, which saw the toll – called an “infrastructure fee” – shot down by the European Commission in 2015, on the grounds that it would represent a disadvantage for foreign drivers, and so contravened European law.
The toll was a central project of the conservative wing of Germany’s coalition government – the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) – and CSU Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt.
It was left to Dobrindt to negotiate alterations to the bill with the European Commission – the outcome of which was that foreign motorists could pay different short-term tolls. Meanwhile, German drivers of cars carrying the latest “Euro 6” emissions standard will pay less road tax to compensate for the toll.
The toll remains controversial, and despite Friday’s vote, individual state governments continued to voice their discontent. “In the border regions, the customers from neighboring countries are vital,” said Volker Wissing, transport minister in Rhineland-Palatinate, a western state that borders Belgium, Luxembourg, and France.
Wissing’s state had voted in favor of the mediation committee, which would have tried to secure toll-free autobahn stretches near Germany’s borders.
The bill has met resistance from Germany’s neighbors: Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium have all threatened to take legal action, with Austria in particular displaying noisy opposition. “I consider this toll discriminatory and not reconcilable with EU law,” Austrian Transport Minister Jörg Leichtfried said. “We know now that Germany has agreed a foreigner toll.”
The Austrian government is planning to take Germany to the European Court of Justice over the issue.
As of 2019, German car-drivers will pay a toll on all federal roads and highways, while foreign motorists will pay to use the 13,000-kilometer (8,000-mile) highway network.
The exact prices, depending on the size and environmental standards of the car, will range between 67 euros and 130 euros ($72 – $140) per year – with drivers of gasoline cars paying less than diesel, as will drivers of cars classified as “Euro 6.”
Foreign drivers will also have the option of paying short-term tolls – either for 10 days or two months – costing between 2.50 euros and 50 euros. The toll will be charged via an electronic system, and enforced with random checks on registration plates.
Exemptions were also built in to accommodate some of the myriad of objections: German motorists will see their car taxes reduced, while motorcycles, electric cars, cars used by the disabled and ambulances will all be exempt.
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