After several trilogues meetings, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached a compromise deal on the draft directive amending the 1999 directive on road use charges for heavy goods vehicles ("Eurovignette"). On 7 June, the European Parliament endorsed the compromise deal, in its second reading vote. Obviously, the European Parliament considers the trilogues meetings an excellent opportunity to increase its influence over the legislative process (ordinary legislative procedure). However, lack of transparency and lack of democratic legitimacy are intrinsic to these behind close doors deals.
The current Directive sets common rules on distance-related tolls and time-based user charges for heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain infrastructures, but it does not include external costs in road tolls. Member States are not required to introduce charging, but, if they choose to do so, they are obliged to comply with the Directive’s rules. Under the compromise deal, Member States will be allowed to charge lorries for the air pollution, noise and congestion they cause. Member States will be able to integrate in tolls levied on road hauliers an amount, which reflects the cost of air pollution and noise pollution, caused by traffic. The draft directive is, therefore, the first application of the ‘polluter pays' principle in EU road transport legislation.
It is important to recall that member states’ positions towards the proposal have been too different, taking into account their different interests. Member States such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Italy have raised concerns of competitiveness of their businesses with the revision of the Eurovignette Directive, particularly they are concerned with the higher costs that another road charging might impose on their trade. In fact, there is only a narrow majority in favour of the proposal. According to Saïd El Khadraoui, the European Parliament’s rapporteur, the compromise deal was supported "by the smallest possible minority in Council.” The compromise text still has to be formally adopted by the Council, and then Member States will have two years to transpose the directive into national law.
At the moment it would be optional for Member States to impose tolls and charges for transport-related environmental and social costs, however the Commission will reserve the right to review the situation. In fact, the Commission is very likely to put forward a proposal introducing a compulsory minimum charge.
The Commission has proposed to extend the scope of the Directive in force beyond the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) to cover the entire national road network. However, some Member States, arguing that the Commission’s proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity, have asked for the scope of the directive to be limited to the trans-European transport network. Nevertheless, under the compromise deal, the draft directive would apply to all motorways across Europe, which represents a considerable extension of the scope of the existing directive.
The amount of the charge related to external costs such as air pollution and noise will vary taking into account the vehicle environmental quality, vehicles' Euro emissions class type, the travelled distance, location and time of use of roads. Presently, levies amount around 15-25 euro cents per kilometre, but it has been estimated that the proposal will entail an increase of 20-30%, meaning 3-4cents per kilometre. The charge will be collected by electronic systems, which are expected to be in operation by 2012.
Under the compromise reached, less polluting vehicles, Euro V and EURO VI, would be exempted from the air pollution charge until 1 January 2014 and until 1 January 2018 respectively.
The main controversial point for the Council was whether or not to allow the Member States to include the costs of traffic congestion in the tolls. Several Member States have not backed the inclusion of congestion as a chargeable external cost. They argued that privately owned cars and not lorries mostly cause traffic congestion problems. Whereas some Member States believe that if applied, congestion charging can have a disproportionate impact on the direct price of transport as well as it could have an unfair treatment on commercial road transport in comparison with other road users, for others it is the most important element of this proposal. Hence, several Member States were demanding the elimination of these costs from the text of the proposal. The Council has agreed to replace the provision on congestion charge by a charge modulation. The compromise treats congestion as part of current infrastructure costs. Member States may therefore “modulate the infrastructure charge to take account of road congestion at peak hours.” Consequently, member states would be allowed to charge higher tolls during rush hour provided they introduce lower tariffs during off-peak periods. The Council and the European Parliament agreed on a maximum rate for variation of the infrastructure charge at 175 % for peak hours and duration of the peak hour’s period of 5 hours, lower tariffs applying the rest of the time on the same road section.
The Directive will apply to all vehicles above 3.5 tonnes. The Council has amended the Commission’s proposal in order to allow member states to exempt vehicles under 12 tonnes from the tolls. However, under the compromise deal, if a member state decides to grant exemptions for vehicles of up to 12 tonnes, it must notify and justify its reasons for the exemption to the Commission.
Under the Commission original proposal, the toll’s revenue should be used to develop alternative infrastructure for transport users, to improve CO2 and energy performance of vehicles. Unsurprisingly, the European Parliament not only supported the Commission proposal to reinvest revenues into the transport system but it has proposed to strengthen even more the obligation how revenues should be used to reduce external costs. Under such proposal, Member States would not have been able to use the revenue from the road charging schemes as they wish and allocate it to their general budget. This has been a highly controversial issue during the negotiations. Obviously, Member States want to keep control of the takings from these tolls. The UK Government as well as the majority of the Member States opposed mandatory earmarking of charges to various measures contributing to the sustainability of transport. In fact, the Council has agreed to delete such obligation of earmarking revenues generated by an external cost charge for projects in the transport sector and replaced it with a recommendation. Under the compromise deal “Member States shall determine the use of revenues generated by this Directive.” Nevertheless, it was agreed “revenues generated from infrastructure and external costs charges (…) should be used to benefit the transport sector, and optimise the entire transport system” as well as “to make transport more sustainable.” Under the compromise deal, at the MEPs insistence, Member States which levy an external-cost charge and/or an infrastructure charge are required to present to the Commission a report on tolls levied on their territory, the total revenue raised through external cost charges and how the money has been invested. Under the draft directive, the provisions on earmarking “shall be deemed to be applied by Member States, if they have in place and implement fiscal and financial support policies which leverage financial support to the trans-European network and which have an equivalent value of at least 15% of the revenues generated from infrastructure and external cost charges in each Member State.” In fact, Said El Khadraoui said "We now have a strong commitment from the Member States to reinvest the money in sustainable transport and spend at least 15% on TEN-T [Transeuropean Transport Network] projects.”