In 2017, the EU Commission presented the revision of the Eurovignette Directive to make the toll on European motorways more environmentally friendly. On Thursday, 17 February 2022, the EU Parliament confirmed the final version of the compromise. However, due to the fact that the new Directive will not reduce the volume of international road transport through Austria, in particular Tyrol, all Austrian MEPs voted in favour of renegotiations, but they remained the minority.
Transport on Europe’s motorways shall become cleaner and more sustainable: with this target in mind, the Commission had presented a proposal to amend the Eurovignette Directive five years earlier. At that time it was above all the proposed phasing-out of time-based tolls for passenger cars, which caused a stir: had this proposal become reality, Austria would have been obliged to replace the motorway vignette by a distance-based toll also for passenger cars, which would have been a special burden to many commuters. Both the EU Parliament and Council uopposing this amendment, it is possible to retain the long-proven vignette system. However, according to the final version of the Eurovignette Directive, Austria must also introduce one-day vignettes.
Unanimous rejection by Austria
However, the main reason why Austrian MEPs were unanimously opposed to the proposal and voted in favour of relaunching the negotiations, can be found in the new conditions for extra charges in mountainous regions. This additional fee currently stands at 25 % and is actually Europe-wide only collected in Tyrol at the Brenner and Inn Valley motorway to co-finance the construction of the Brenner Base Tunnel. According to the new Directive the toll can be increased to 50 % in future; however, the neighbouring countries will be able to veto this increase. In view of the heated discussions in respect of cross-border HGV transport through Tyrol, it is likely Germany or Italy will make use of this veto option.
Another massive point of criticism is with regard to the HGV toll on CO2 emissions. In future, battery-powered or fuel cell HGVs have to pay a lower toll than those running on Diesel. With this reduction EU Member States want to reduce CO2 emissions in road freight transport. However, for Austria, where the primary goal is to shift the transport of goods from road to rail, this advantage is counterproductive, as already today it is much cheaper to transport goods on road than on rail. This imbalance will increase in future once vehicles have become cleaner. However, the fact that Austria has already decided on exactly this toll advantage for the current national toll charges, adds a rather piquant note.
Hence, the Directive does not contribute anything to Austria’s main concern to reduce the number of HGVs on burdened transit routes and to encourage a shift to rail respectively. To achieve this, Germany and Italy would have to increase their toll charges across the entire motorway network, expand rail freight transport in their countries and at last make an attempt to put a stop to social dumping on “cheap” roads.
Eurovignette Directive also means progress for the environment
The lack of shifting transport away from the road overshadows the progress, which Member States are able to make with the new Eurovignette Directive on reducing the environmental impact. For example, in future, the cost for public transport can be significantly more offset with the toll levy collected on motorways. Apart from that, levies for air and noise pollution will be significantly increased. This is added by further provisions, which represent progress at European level, but do not change Austria’s scope in setting the toll charges: for example, HGV vignettes, which still exist f.e. in the Netherlands or Sweden, will be banned in future. Furthermore, Member States will be obliged to levy additional charges fors air and noise pollution if a toll is charged on a motorway. Until now, this option was voluntary and has over many years only been used by Austria.
Hence, the conclusion is rather sombre: the new Eurovignette Directive contains individual positive impulses to make HGV transport in Europe more environmentally friendly. However, for Austria hardly anything changes with regard to her limited scope to achieve – based on the toll charges – a shift of international transport of goods from road to rail.