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Cars and Transportation

ECJ sides with Germany over autobahn toll

February 6, 2019

The opinion of the court found that Austria demonstrated a "fundamental misunderstanding" of what discrimination means. An official decision will be delivered in the coming months.

A German highway
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Wednesday issued an opinion siding with Germany over its controversial plan to impose tolls ultimately designed to affect foreign passenger cars using its highways. The opinion comes after Austria sued Germany for discrimination.

"According to Austria, the combined effect of the infrastructure charge and the tax relief for owners of domestic vehicles is that…only drivers of vehicles registered in other Member States…are subject to the infrastructure charge, thereby giving rise to indirect discrimination on grounds of nationality," the opinion of Advocate General Nils Wahl said.

'Misunderstanding of discrimination'

However, Wahl found that Austria had a "fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of discrimination." One major problem with Austria's argument, he wrote, was the idea that domestic drivers and foreign drivers use German highways at the same rate.

Furthermore, the opinion said, foreigners are not subject to Germany's infrastructure charge and motor vehicle tax.

The toll for foreign vehicles was signed into law in 2015 but never activated, as a result of various lawsuits. Other EU countries have long complained that German plans to offer its taxpayers a rebate on vehicle tax to cancel out the toll — which they will also pay —  effectively makes it a toll only for non-Germans.

While the CJEU's opinion is not a legally binding decision, the court usually follows the precedent set by these documents.

Germany's toll for passenger vehicles is currently set to come into effect in late 2020 or early 2021.

es/msh (AFP, dpa)

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