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Controversial German road toll moves closer to reality

A toll slammed as discriminating against tourists may soon be implemented, Berlin has said. Germany's transportation minister has announced a forthcoming compromise with Brussels over the controversial fee.

Germany's transportation minister promised on Thursday that the European Union and Berlin were close to a compromise over a controversial road toll after years of debate. This was all the more surprising as Brussels still has a suit against Germany pending over the perceived discriminatory nature of the fee.

"We are arriving at mutual understanding, and I am confident that we can strike an agreement with the European Commission in November," Alexander Dobrindt told news agency Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, meanwhile, said Brussels was "very confident that the last remaining open question will be settled in a way that satisfies the commission and the German government during November."

These comments were in line with a report earlier in the day from the daily "Bild" newspaper that a breakthrough had been reached between the two parties.

Originally proposed in 2014, Germany plans to charge drivers up to 130 euros ($145.8) a year to use its highways. For Germans, this would be offset by their road taxes, leading the European Commission to accuse Berlin of unfairly targeting tourists and cross-border commuters. 

New tax, made in Bavaria

In September, the EU executive finally moved to take Germany to court over the matter, suing the government in the European Court of Justice. At the time, Dobrindt had welcomed the move, saying the Commission had at least "stopped dragging its feet on the matter."

Now, the minister says, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker "has personally invested quite a bit in reaching a mutually beneficial solution."

The highway toll was the pet project of Dobrindt's CSU party, the Bavarian sister of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), after the 2013 general election. Coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD) have been highly critical of the plan that some experts project will line Berlin's coffers with some 500 million euros ($555 million) a year.

German news agency DPA on Thursday evening reported some further details of the possible accord, citing EU sources. According to that account, an agreement on a less costly short-term pass was one of the key issues in need of resolution, to ensure a fair deal for tourists and commuters. The other reported alteration lay in plans to offset the costs against road tax for German drivers. According to DPA's information, a new accord will take a car's emissions and fuel efficiency into account, meaning some people would receive a rebate exceeding the toll's value, while those with more thirsty vehicles would only get a partial rebate.

Germany already has a separate toll system in place for heavy goods vehicles using the country's major highways.

es/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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