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Germany closer to charging foreign car drivers for roads

Sep 25, 2014
For years Bavarian politicians have been pushing for highway user fees for non-German cars. Now they may have come closer their goal.

On 7 July, the German transport minister presented plans that should be turned into legislation before the beginning of 2016. They foresee the introduction of mandatory vignettes for passenger cars (€10 for 10 days, €20 for two months, €100 for one year) for using the complete German 600,000 km road network. Though non-German cars are the target of the operation German cars will also be formally subject to the fee. But de facto they will not pay for the vignette as its price of some €100 will be deducted from the annual vehicle tax.

Independent from the EU implications, many people, including several German politicians, believe that highway user fees are not an optimal method of financing the construction and maintenance of highways. Unless it is done electronically, which will be possible only on the main highways, the collection is expensive, especially when applied and differentiated to millions of cars.

In Germany the government expects to raise some €600 million in fees, the collection of which may cost up to €200 million, a huge amount. Germany is also likely to become less popular with its neighbours which could lead to tit for tat reactions. Those opposing the scheme suggest that the most cost-effective way of charging highway users the cost of road construction/maintenance is through fuel taxes; the basis of this view being that this is the fairest way to charge vehicles for the wear and tear including air/noise pollution that they cause.

These opponents also claim that is by far the cheapest and most productive method of financing the road infrastructure. It is estimated that Germany would only have to increase the average tax rate per litre fuel by 5% to obtain the extra fiscal revenues the government hopes to achieve by putting in place new bureaucratic machinery. A substantial share of non-German road users would also pay fuel taxes during their stop-overs in Germany and thus contribute to what the German transport minister has unfortunately called the “equity gap”. If it were to pass the many obstacles of the German political and legislative machinery the EU competition guardians will then also need to review it before it should ever become a European reality.

Image: Charges for foreign cars using German roads could be in place before 2016.

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