Swiss vote for "kilometre tax" on HGVs

Result likely to unblock EU/Swiss trade deal; Greens call for EU-wide truck charging

All lorries using Swiss roads will be subject to environmental charging calculated per kilometre they travel from 2001, following a national referendum held yesterday. Just over 57% of votes were cast in favour of the law, which was passed by the parliament in 1997 but could not enter into force without backing in a nation-wide vote. Under the law, all heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be charged, and charges will be higher for heavier and more polluting vehicles.

The vote has been warmly welcomed by the Greens in the European Parliament, which said today that they would push for the EU to follow Switzerland's example and introduce an EU-wide kilometre tax for HGVs when discussions begin on a European Commission white paper on infrastructure charging. The group congratulated Swiss citizens for their "firm support" for the law.

The referendum result also brings Switzerland closer to finalising a bilateral trade deal with the EU. In a draft transport deal negotiated between Switzerland and EU transport commissioner Neil Kinnock earlier this year the EU insisted that Switzerland open its roads for transit by EU heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) at a fair price (ENDS Daily 26 January).

Swiss negotiators agreed to charge an average of 200 centimes per transit, a figure which is roughly similar to the charging scheme allowed for in the Swiss law, which was endorsed by yesterday's referendum. A Swiss diplomat in Brussels told ENDS Daily: "I am confident that this will contribute to finalising the deal."

The EU-Switzerland deal has been held up by in-fighting between EU member states, which are still trying to reach an agreement over their own system for charging road freight under the proposed "Eurovignette" directive. Mr Kinnock's spokeswoman said that yesterday's vote should spur EU countries into concluding the deal to ensure Switzerland does not push its road charges higher than those already agreed.

If and when the bilateral agreement comes into force, Switzerland will have to lift its restriction on lorries over 28 tonnes to allow 40-tonne EU vehicles on its roads. Even with the threat of larger trucks on the roads, Swiss environmentalists are optimistic. "HGV traffic through Switzerland is growing despite the 28-tonne limit and a night time driving ban, so the status quo is not sufficient - that's a reason to examine other instruments," said David Asséo of the Transport and Environment Association, a Swiss environmental group. "Our analysis is that it is a necessity to have this type of road charging, not only in Switzerland, but in the rest of Europe."

Follow Up:
Transport and Environment Association, tel: +41 31 328 8200.

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