The death blow for road tolls in Belgium

The death blow for road tolls in Belgium
A German autobahn © Tarboosh/Wikimedia

A plan to introduce road tolls in Flanders for private cars could be in danger, as it is revealed that a ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg held that a similar road toll in Germany, is in breach of EU law.

The court stated that the German toll discriminates against foreigners. The plan was to bring in an annual toll sticker for all cars from October 202o. It was reckoned that the new charge would yield around 500 million euros a year.

But an objection was raised by the Dutch and Austrian governments, who argued their citizens were discriminated against by the toll. The reason: German taxpayers could offset the cost of the sticker against the existing road tax, but that option was not available to residents of other countries.

The court upheld this argument, stating that the toll is discriminatory as the costs of implementing the system fall entirely on foreign drivers. When determining its ruling, the full court went against the advice of its advocate-general earlier in the year. The advocate-general noted that Germans have to buy a sticker for the whole year, whereas foreigners can buy one for ten days, and only for the Autobahn. The court is not obliged to follow the advice of the advocate-general, but does so more often than not.

The previous Flemish government had plans to introduce a similar road toll, ostensibly to help pay for the cost of roads which are widely used by foreign drivers passing through Belgium. The plans were prematurely revealed shortly before May’s regional elections, and rapidly talked down by mobility minister Ben Weyts as “premature,” but the intention remains, and Weyts’ party N-VA will once again hold the reins of the new government.

At present, a study is underway into the effects of such a road toll, the results of which are expected in September. The other regions are still at the stage of considering the option of introducing a toll.

In the meantime, motoring organisation Touring, which favours a road toll, expressed concern at the consequences of the European Court ruling.

We have been pleading for the existing road tax to be scrapped and replaced by a road toll based on kilometres travelled,” said Touring spokesperson Danny Smagghe. “But foreigners have to pay the Flemish toll on top of road tax in their own country. It’s an open question to what extent that will be acceptable to Europe.”

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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