26th Jan 2021

German cabinet approves road toll aimed at foreigners

  • Toll station in Austria. Such stations would not be necessary in Germany, where the new system would be electronic. (Photo: sanfamedia.com)

The German government on Wednesday (17 December) approved a plan to introduce a road toll expected to have the net effect of only foreign drivers paying the levy.

The move comes despite protests from the EU and neighbouring countries like Austria and the Netherlands,

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The federal government expects the new toll system, which will tax drivers electronically, to collect €3.7 billion a year.

The largest part of that sum however, will flow back to German citizens, who will be able to deduct the toll costs from the vehicle tax they are already paying.

On Wednesday, the German cabinet approved two law proposals: one by transport minister Alexander Dobrindt for the road toll, one by finance minister Wolfgang Schauble to adapt the vehicle tax law.

In the end, only foreign drivers will pay the toll. This is expected to amount to €500 million annually.

From 1 January 2016, all foreign drivers on German motorways will be obliged to have a vignette, buyable online or at a petrol station.

It is the idea that foreigners will be paying, but Germans will not, which has drawn the attention of Brussels. Transport commissioner Violeta Bulc and her predecessor Siim Kallas have been closely following the evolution of the debate.

On Sunday (14 December), German paper Bild reported that Bulc was still concerned that the toll may discriminate non-German drivers from the EU, making it incompatible with EU law.

According to the paper, Bulc wrote in a letter to German transport minister Dobrindt that the proposed vignettes foreigners will have to buy for short visits – €10 for ten days, €20 for two months – are too expensive.

However, a spokesperson for Dobrindt told Der Spiegel that Bulc must have seen an outdated version of the proposed bill. Her letter included “wrong assumptions”.

In the newest version of the bill, foreign citizens who pay taxes in Germany will also be entitled to the tax relief, the spokesperson said, making it compatible with EU law.

However, the centre-left SPD, coalition partner of chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, is not convinced yet that the bills will not discriminate against non-Germans.

“There are still many questions unanswered”, German parliamentarian Soren Bartol told Der Spiegel.

The road toll idea originated in southern German state Bavaria, which is situated in the heart of Europe and sees a lot of transit traffic.

Bavarian centre-right politician Horst Seehofer announced in the Summer of 2013 that foreigners should start contributing to the road infrastructure in his state.

In an interview with Die Welt, Seehofer noted that the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland, which border or are close to Bavaria, all have a system of vignettes.

Seehofter threatened that his CSU party would not enter a coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, after last year's parliamentary elections, without her commitment to the plan.

During coalition talks, Merkel's party agreed to accept the road toll.

The cabinet's approval helped Seehofer and Dobrindt, who is also from Bavaria to deliver on an election promise.

The new road toll also comes at the expense of relations with neighbouring states.

Austria and the Netherlands have already announced that they might bring take legal action.

“I will not allow Austrian drivers to be discriminated against”, Austrian transport minister Doris Bures said over the summer.


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