Austrian lorry transit restrictions agreed

Austria threatens legal action after deal struck to spread required cut in transits over four years

After lengthy haggling, EU governments late last week finally agreed to cut the number of lorry transits allowed through Austria over the next four years. Austria voted against the deal, having wanted tougher restrictions imposed. The government is now threatening to take the case to the European Court of Justice.

Under the "ecopoint" system introduced when Austria joined the EU in 1995, EU hauliers are granted a number of permits for road transits of Austria, related to level of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The total number available is reduced each year, with the aim of a 60% cut in NOx emissions over 12 years. The agreement also requires that if absolute transit numbers exceed the 1991 level by more than 8% then there should be an extra cut in the number of ecopoints available in the following year.

In 1999 this "108% threshold" was breached, and it quickly became apparent that if the full cut required in 2000 was applied then road haulage across Austria would virtually have to cease by the end of 2000. In response, the Commission proposed spreading the required reduction in ecopoints over four years while targeting the cut in national shares of the 2000 pot just on the five countries that exceeded their quota in 1999 (ENDS Daily 24 May).

EU governments initially failed to reach agreement on the plan, which was opposed by Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece because they did not want their allocations cut, and by Austria because it wanted all of the required cut made in 2000 (ENDS Daily 27 June). EU transport commissioner Loyola de Palacio turned the heat up on the issue by threatening to issue no more ecopoints until its proposal was agreed (ENDS Daily 19 July), before being forced to back down (ENDS Daily 27 July).

Under the final deal between member states, the total cut in ecopoints due to the 108% threshold breach will be just over 1m. As the Commission proposed, the reduction will be split over four years, with 30% each applied in 2000-2002 and 10% in 2003, the final year of the ecopoint scheme. Also as it proposed, the burden of the extra cuts will fall entirely on Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece and Austria (see table below).

Not all elements of the deal follow the Commission's original proposal. In particular, the 1m cut in ecopoints is less than half the 2.2m reduction proposed. In addition, the 108% threshold will remain in force in 2000, the Commission having suggested its suspension for one year to avoid the risk of a further penalty cut in ecopoints being triggered for a second year running.

The Commission is due to report on the ecopoint scheme and its effect on the environment and on business before the end of the year.

New ecopoint distribution for 2000
Country     Original         New          Cut
          distribution   distribution
Italy      3,858,542      3,789,047       1.8%
Germany    3,650,484      3,548,525       2.8%
Austria    1,633,683      1,519,487       7.0%
Greece       457,729        455,768       0.4%
Belgium      245,888        240,765       2.1%
EU total  11,730,998     11,428,150       2.6%

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, press release., and Council regulation 2012/2000

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