Europe’s highest court has dismissed a German autobahn toll proposal as contrary to EU law, a political blow to chancellor Angela Merkel and her Bavarian political allies.
Disregarding its own legal expert’s opinion, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) found in favour of Austria, which took a case against Germany’s proposals in Luxembourg.
Berlin had planned to toll all private cars using the autobahn network in Germany from October 2020 – but would allow German motorists to write off their tolls against their national motor tax.
In its ruling the court found that discriminating between drivers of German- and non-German-registered vehicles constituted indirect discrimination on grounds of nationality and breached principles of free movement of goods and of the freedom to provide services.
The judges in their ruling said each member state was entitled to alter its road infrastructure revenue model.
“However, such alteration must comply with EU law, in particular the principle of non-discrimination, which is not so in the present case,” the court found. Germany had failed to show how shifting the entire financial burden of the toll on to non-German vehicle owners “could be justified by environmental or other considerations”.
Off the table
Andreas Scheuer, Germany’s federal transport minister, promised to “respect and accept” the ruling, conceding: “The German toll in its present form is off the table.”
As far back as 2015 the autobahn car toll has been a prestige project for Mr Scheuer’s Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian allies of Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin.
Neither CDU nor their Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition partner shared the CSU’s enthusiasm to regulate and raise revenue from heavy European transit traffic passing through Bavaria to the Alps and beyond.
On Tuesday Austrian and German opposition parties could barely contain their glee at the end of a toll system they claimed was so complicated it would generate negligible revenue.
“The idea was nonsense, the implementation sloppy and now the CJEU has pulled the emergency brake,” said Cem Özdemir of the Green Party, head of the Bundestag transport committee.
The defunct system would have required the owners of German-registered vehicles to pay an annual fee of €130. Transit motorists would have to pay short-term fees of €2.50-€50. Berlin vowed to make the fees cost neutral for German drivers and to reinvest all revenue generated into the ageing road network.