The Czech presidency has tabled a compromise proposal to delay the implementation of congestion charges for freight haulage companies by four years to break deadlocked talks on the revision of the Eurovignette Directive.
The proposed Directive suggests that a new toll of a few cents per kilometre should be levied on road haulage companies to ensure they ‘internalise the full external costs’ related to the noise, pollution and congestion they cause based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
The Directive forms part of a Commission plan to encourage a shift from air and road freight to rail and waterways freight, which is considered more environmentally sustainable.
But a Council agreement on the revision of the Eurovignette has been pending since the French Presidency failed to consolidate divergent national views on the charges related to congestion.
While it has already been endorsed by the European Parliament, it is due to come before transport ministers at an EU Council of Ministers meeting on March 30.
Some member states have expressed their fears that if applied, congestion charging could have a disproportionate impact on the direct price of transport, and could also result in unfair treatment of haulage transport over other road users also responsible for congestion.
The UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) claims the Eurovignette would only increase industry costs and thereby food prices at a time of great economic hardship for many people.
And the International Road Transport Union (IRU), which represents trucks, argues that internalising external costs for road transport only, without proper cost-benefit analyses, will undermine the EU's Lisbon goals of boosting growth, jobs and competitiveness and should be stopped, "especially in these times of recession".
"If the EU continues on this path, the revenues collected are likely to be used to further subsidise other transport modes without any environmental gain," said IRU General Delegate to the EU Michael Nielsen.
By proposing to postpone the introduction of these charges by four years, the EU presidency stated that it is trying to ‘bridge the gap’ between the opposing sides, and it also stressed that this proposed gradual approach would be appropriate in the face of the economic downturn.