Palacio puts bomb under Austrian transit row

Some heavy goods traffic could be halted by August unless governments agree ecopoints reductions

The European Commission has threatened chaos for haulage firms crossing Austria by refusing to hand out new transit permits until EU transport ministers agree a general reduction in the number of "ecopoints," based on a Commission proposal made in May (ENDS Daily 24 May).

EU transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio has written to the French presidency urging it to ensure that EU transport ministers reach agreement on the controversial issue before a 21 September deadline. She told French transport minister Jean-Claude Gayssot that the Commission would not distribute any more ecopoints to member states until this time.

Ministers failed to agree how to limit the number of transits through Austria at a meeting in Luxembourg last month (ENDS Daily 27 June). The five countries which use the route the most - Austria, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Greece - blocked the Commission's proposal to spread over four years cuts in Austrian transits that would otherwise have had to be achieved in the remainder of 2000. The requirement was sparked by exceedence of traffic ceilings agreed when Austria joined the EU in 1995.

A spokesperson for Ms de Palacio told ENDS Daily that the Commission would not be a scapegoat and the solution to the problem was in the hands of member states. In the meantime, no ecopoints would be handed out until there was a final decision about the level of reduction.

Ms de Palacio's move has already drawn protests from Germany. The national transport ministry announced today that transport minister Reinhard Klimmt had written to her claiming that there was no legal basis for the refusal to hand out any more ecopoints. Mr Klimmt has also written to internal market Commissioner Fritz Bolkestein telling him the action disrupts the internal market.

German haulage company association, BGL complained yesterday that the Commission's freezing of new ecopoints could prevent its members from fulfilling trans-Alpine contracts as soon as August.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. German transport ministry, tel: +49 30 20080 and press release; {BGL} ({http}://{www}.{bgl-ev}), tel: +49 69 79190, and {press release} ( http://www.bgl-ev.de/dynamic/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilungen/pm_detail.php?newsfile=newsfiles%2F77f9e999827b143ffff3b2fee7ee7c6b.txt).

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