Deal struck on EU lorry charging, Swiss tolls

"Eurovignette" accord paves way to road pricing based on environmental impacts of vehicles

EU transport ministers reached political agreement yesterday on a system of road pricing that will require differentiation of charges on heavy lorries according to their environmental impacts. They also broke through two years' of deadlock to agree on transport charging on environmentally sensitive routes through the Alps, including a deal concluded with Switzerland on its Alpine road charges.

The "Eurovignette" directive aims to harmonise road charging through the EU single market. From 1 July 2000, annual charges will range from a maximum of Ecu1,550 for the heaviest and most polluting vehicles to Ecu750 for the lightest and cleanest lorries. Under these bands, charges are to be further differentiated according to the duration of use of infrastructure.

In related negotiations, the EU and Switzerland finally reached a compromise on Swiss road charges that have held up an EU-Swiss association agreement as well as significantly complicating the Eurovignette talks (ENDS Daily 27 November).

As foreseen, Switzerland will charge an average of Ecu200 per transit, but now this will only be effective after a new rail tunnel at Loetschberg is completed in 2007 or 2008. Before this time, the average will be no more than Ecu180, soothing Austrian fears that traffic will continue to be dissuaded from crossing Switzerland and will cross the Alps over Austria's Brenner pass instead.

In return, Switzerland will gradually phase out its current 28-tonne weight limit on lorries. Quota limited access for 40-tonne lorries will be introduced from 2000, rising to unlimited access in 2005. Lorries up to 34 tonnes will have unlimited access from 2001. Austria in turn, has compromised in the light of the Swiss concessions, and has accepted to impose a maximum toll of Ecu84 for transits over the Brenner pass.

In a statement appended to the conclusions from the ministerial meeting, the European Commission claimed that it was confident that as a result of the agreement and other factors such as the planned introduction of distance-related charges in Germany and improvements in EU and Swiss rail infrastructure, a significant amount of traffic would be shifted from the Brenner route to Switzerland.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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