Merkel’s cabinet backs controversial vignette payable only by visiting drivers.
Despite saying on many occasions she couldn’t comment on the German ‘foreigner toll’ until the bill itself was published, the EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc was widely reported to have sent a critical letter on the subject to the German transport ministry at the weekend.
If the timing of the letter was meant to influence events – a few days ahead of the new law being debated in the German cabinet – then unfortunately it failed.
As expected, the ‘foreigner toll’ was approved by the cabinet of ministers this morning.
The cabinet also adopted another law which offsets the toll for domestic drivers by reducing vehicle tax.
A triumphant transport minister Alexander Dobrindt said afterwards, ‘[the toll] is fair because it is practiced in many of our neighbouring countries in a similar way. It makes sense, because every euro flows into strengthening our transport infrastructure – about two billion euros in an election period – and it is just because the people who use the roads are the ones who will pay for them.’
He also insisted the law was in line with European rules.
Bulc’s letter apparently called the foreigner toll ‘indirectly discriminatory’. She also said the short term vignettes available for visiting drivers – €10 for ten days, €22 for two months – were disproportionately expensive. The annual charge is a maximum €130.
Dobrindt says the charges are in line with other countries. He has also reportedly guaranteed that prices will not rise before 2020.
Whereas German drivers will need to buy the vignette to use any state-owned road, visitors will only need it to use motorways.
The foreigner toll law now only has to be approved by the Bundestag before entering into force in 2016.
Austria and the Netherlands, among others, have previously said they will challenge the new charge in the European courts.