De Palacio does three-point turn on ecopoints

Commission authorises reduced number of Austrian transit permits to last until September

EU transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio has reversed her earlier hard-line stance in a dispute over freight transport through Austria by agreeing to distribute a reduced quota of "ecopoint" permits to sustain transit traffic until a final agreement is reached in late September. The U-turn follows strong criticism from Germany of her earlier refusal to hand out permits (ENDS Daily 19 July). EU hauliers will now share 1.5 million ecopoints, equivalent to around 240,000 transit trips.

"A complete block on movements would have been difficult," she conceded after her fellow commissioners approved the move yesterday. The partial distribution of the permits would avoid "breakdown and paralysis" while ministers decided on longer term arrangements, she added. German hauliers had said a freeze on permits would have stopped transits by August.

The dispute surrounds the Commission's proposal to spread a huge cut in ecopoints scheduled for the rest of this year over the next four years instead. The cut is required under an EU agreement with Austria dating from 1995, triggered by an exceedance of traffic levels last year. The Commission wants to distribute a total of just under 3m ecopoints for the rest of this year. Germany, Italy, Greece and Belgium want more and blocked the proposal last month (ENDS Daily 27 June). But Austria insists that only 1.6m should be granted and also opposes the Commission's proposal.

If ministers fail to agree on cuts when they meet again on 21 September the Commission's figures will be automatically adopted, allowing a further 1.5m permits to be distributed. Ms de Palacio said Austria was now isolated and had informally conceded that its demands - which after yesterday's decision would mean only 100,000 more permits available for the third quarter - were unreasonable.

When it is distributed next week, about one quarter of the tranche will go to German hauliers, according to the German transport ministry. German truckers' association BGL said today that between 800 and 1,000 of its members had already run out of transit permits and had been unable to fulfil trans-Austrian contracts.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and see press release IP/00/872 dated 27/7/00 on Rapid; BGL, tel: +49 69 79190, and press release.

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