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The German road toll system for passenger cars is contrary to EU law –  the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled it out on Tuesday morning. The judges found the fee discriminatory since the economic burden of the charge falls solely on the owners and drivers of vehicles registered in other member states. The verdict is the result of a complaint filed against Germany by the Austrians.

In today’s judgment, the CJEU stated that “the infrastructure uses a charge, in combination with the relief from motor vehicle tax enjoyed by the owners of vehicles registered in Germany, constitutes indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality and is in breach of the principles of the free movement of goods and of the freedom to provide services.”

The Court has found that the effect of the relief from motor vehicle tax enjoyed by the owners of vehicles registered in Germany is to entirely  offset the infrastructure charge used that is paid by those persons, with the result that the economic burden of it falls, solely on the owners and drivers of vehicles registered in the other Member States.

The Germans wanted to get money only from foreign drivers

In 2015, Germany set legal standards for the introduction of a fee for passenger cars for the use of federal roads and motorways. It was a fee for using the infrastructure, which was supposed to allow for a change in the method of road financing. Maintenance costs were to be transferred to users, especially those most polluting the environment (the amount of the fee depended on the Euro emission standard).

According to the established regulations, every vehicle owner in Germany was obliged to purchase an annual vignette for EUR 130. Owners and drivers of vehicles from abroad, apart from an annual vignette, also had a 10-day payment (from 2.5 to 25 euro) or a two-month payment (from 7 to 50 euro).

However, the German legislator decided to grant owners of vehicles registered in Germany a tax break (from passenger cars) for an amount at least equal to that of the fee they were to pay for the vignette. In practice, this would mean that payments to finance German roads would be borne only by drivers of foreign cars.

Austria, like other EU countries, recognized that such a fee system with exemption from tax is discriminatory for drivers and owners of cars registered outside Germany. The Austrians, therefore, decided to lodge a complaint against Germany with the Court of Justice – for failure to fulfil obligations. The CJEU points out that such complaints very rarely bring member states against each other – this is the seventh case in the history of the Union (at present the eighth complaint is currently being considered).

Photo: Flickr.com/katarina_dzurekova CC BY 2.0

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