Photo credits @ Vladimir Menkov/ Wikimedia Commons

Austria defends its position against Italy while planning more block handlings

Austria has responded to Italy's complaint about the Brenner transit restriction. Vienna has sent a response to the European Commission defending the restrictions in place. Meanwhile, further block handlings at the German-Austrian border have been announced for this week and next.

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The Italian Transport Minister Matteo Salvini confirmed in mid-February this year that Italy would complain to Brussels about transit restrictions in the Tyrol against Austria.

Italy has formally asked the European Commission to continue infringement proceedings, Salvini announced, announcing an end to the “harmful Austrian truck blockades on the Brenner motorway.

According to the Italian minister, the restrictions imposed by Tyrol, such as limiting the number of lorries allowed through and banning them at weekends and nights, violate EU rules on the free movement of people and goods. 

The European Commission now has three months to issue a reasoned opinion on the complaint before Italy can take Austria to the Court of Justice of the European Union. If such a complaint is lodged, the respondent has the opportunity to respond and this is what the Austrians have issued to the European Commission. 

On 19 March, Austria’s Permanent Representation in Brussels sent a response to the Italian legal proceedings to the European Commission, in which it reserved the correctness of the measures taken, reports the Tiroler Tageszeitung newspaper, which lists the arguments of the Austrian government. 

Austria emphasises in the letter that the measures taken increase air quality and safety. 

However, the Austrian government adds some specific comments. The first is formal, as the Italian complaint did not clearly define the subject of the dispute, which is a minimum procedural requirement. 

The second point concerns the complaint itself. According to Italy, the Austrian restrictions and prohibitions restrict the free movement of goods, which, however, according to Vienna, is not restricted, as the freedom to choose the mode of transport remains. 

The third argument presented by Austria concerns the health of its citizens. In this sphere, the Austrians refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union, according to which the health of citizens has the highest status. 

Finally, the Austrian government notes that it was ready for dialogue even during the trialogue (in which Germany also participated) and had presented some solutions, such as the slot system or the so-called corridor toll. Italy, on the other hand, rejected even minor adjustments in terms of tolls.

The first hearing will take place on 8 April 2024 in Brussels and will be attended by representatives of both parties and the European Commission. The latter should assess the case by 14 May and decide whether to initiate infringement proceedings against Austria, sending a reasoned opinion to Vienna with the possibility of receiving a reply within two months.

If the Commission decides that there are no conditions, Italy will be able to appeal directly to the European Court of Justice.

Regardless of the further course of the case, the Austrian government intends to maintain all restrictions until a possible negative decision by the Commission or the CJEU, which is not expected before 2026.

Block handling days just around the corner

Meanwhile, due to the Easter holidays this week, drivers have to expect block checks at the German-Austrian border crossing at Kufstein/Kiefersfelden. These will take place on Maundy Thursday – 28 March. 

Another, additional block handling, due to the necessary structural inspection of the Lueg Bridge, will take place on Wednesday 3 April and Thursday 4 April from 9 a.m., reports the Austrian hauliers’ organisation AISOE.

The next block check dates are scheduled in less than four weeks but May will be packed with block handlings: 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29 and 31 May.

The Tyrolean government has also presented a block check calendar for the second half of this year. See our mid-March article for more details.