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Fees for foreigners?

December 22, 2013

Germany's new transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, has said that a toll for foreign cars on highways could be implemented by 2015. He postulated an annual pass costing 100 euros, to be reimbursed for domestic drivers.

A shot of the A13 German highway between Berlin and Dresden, taken on 21.11.2012. (Photo: Andreas Franke)
Image: picture-alliance/Andreas Frank

Alexander Dobrindt told Sunday's mass-circulation "Bild am Sonntag" newspaper that he hoped for a new toll system for passenger vehicles on the German network of autobahns, or highways, by 2015. The CSU politician, a member of the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel's CDU, said the new German grand coalition government would work on draft laws next year.

"Then we will have sufficient time to discuss and to pass the draft legislation. In 2015, the technical implementation of the toll system for foreign car owners can begin," Dobrindt told Bild.

Dobrindt proposed an annual fee for a windshield sticker, or vignette, saying that it could be reimbursed for German drivers via a reduction in road taxes. The revenue generated could constitute "a return of billions," according to Dobrindt.

"The vignette is a tested, simple system to implement with minimal bureaucratic costs. One could start considering 100 euros ($136.7). But it could be a little more or a little less," Dobrindt said.

Dobrindt had previously suggested providing German motorists with a free autobahn license, delivered along with their year's road tax. Domestic critics have said this system would marginalize the savings made by drivers with low-emissions vehicles who pay less to license their cars.

Legal hurdles at European level?

Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic are among the EU countries currently using an annual toll - as opposed to the distance-based toll system used in parts of EU members including France, Spain and Italy. What would differentiate the proposed German system from all of these, however, is the proposed exemption or rebate for domestic drivers - an issue that critics believe to be potentially problematic under EU laws.

Currently, EU law also stipulates that countries favoring the annual fee aimed at frequent visitors also offer a cheaper short-term alternative, with Brussels suggesting a period of between one week or one month as appropriate.

Germany's largest motorists' organization, the ADAC, has opposed the proposal, telling public broadcaster ARD that the toll would only bring in worthwhile revenues if it was levied on domestic motorists as well.

'Made in Bavaria'

Formerly the CSU's secretary general, almost a Bavarian understudy to State Premier Horst Seehofer, 43-year-old Dobrindt moved into a federal post for the first time this week as part of Merkel's newly-confirmed cabinet.

The CSU arguably suffered with the arrival of the Social Democrats in the German government, effectively losing the interior ministry in exchange for the development ministry as part of a three-way shuffle. But the important Bavarian wing of Merkel's center-right alliance retained the transport and digital infrastructure portfolio, placing Dobrindt, a vocal advocate of the autobahn tolls, in the post.

Dobrindt is therefore charged with implementing what's becoming a flagship policy for the CSU - at least insofar as neither Merkel's Christian Democrats nor the Social Democrats have openly advocated it - on the national stage. The explicit mention of considering a toll on foreign cars in the German coalition agreement was often cited as a major concession secured by the CSU during the three-party talks.

Germany first implemented a distance-based toll system for heavy goods vehicles, including those registered domestically, in 2005.

msh/tj (AFP, dpa, Reuters)