Disagreement among members states means a decision to impose a new toll of a few cents per kilometre on freight haulage companies based on the polluter pays principle has been delayed.
The Eurovignette Directive aims to ensure that lorries distributing food and drink and other consumer goods ‘internalise the full external costs’ related to the noise, pollution and congestion they cause.
It forms part of a Commission plan to encourage a shift from air and road freight to rail and waterways freight, considered more environmentally sustainable.
However, transport ministers at an EU Council of Ministers meeting on March 30 failed to reach an agreement over the issue.
The EU presidency had proposed delaying the introduction of the congestion charges aspect by four years in the hope that it would help 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.
However, some member states 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) previously told this publication that the Directive 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".
While a country can decide not to impose the Eurovignette, hauliers’ groups have pointed out that would not ensure that other member states follow suit, and that this could have potentially ‘disastrous’ consequences for goods travelling to the European market.