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A cloud seems to have lifted from the controversial Eurovignette file. MEPs accepted, on 7 June in Strasbourg, the compromise drafted two weeks prior with the Council of Ministers by rapporteuraSaid El Khadraoui (S&D, Belgium). The green light was finally given by a clear majority - which, notwithstanding, came as a surprise: 505 votes in favour, 141 against and 17 abstentions. The next step, and the last before final adoption of the new directive, is the green light from the Council, following qualified majority voting. There should not be any obstacles to this happening and, what is more, "very quickly" according to Hungarian State Secretary for EU Affairs Eniko Gyori.

The subject has been on the table for three years so it is a notable success for the Hungarian Presidency (as well as for the previous - Belgian - Presidency, whose initiative it was to move the file forwards).

The aim of the new directive is to allow states who are willing - this is not an obligation - to tax hauliers for air and noise pollution costs (see Europolitics 4209).

Currently, revenues from tolls can only cover the costs of construction and maintenance. In the countries where it is applied, the new directive will make the use of roads more expensive for the most polluting hauliers, especially in mountainous areas. The directive will also allow states to reduce the cost for hauliers driving outside of rush hours. It is estimated that on average three or four eurocents per vehicle per kilometre may be added to charges for using transport infrastructure. In the context of the vote, the International Road Transport Union (IRU), which represents the road transport industry in the EU, lamented this "new tax," which "will actually impede operators from investing in and implementing the best technologies and techniques crucial to further green' road transport and meet the CO2 reduction target". The IRU warned that, jointly with its member associations in every EU member state, it will closely monitor for what purpose this new taxawill effectively be used by national governments.

Beyond political differences, the debate in Council and in Parliament mainly opposed transit countries - which are most affected by the negative consequences of road transport and would like to share the burden - and peripheral countries - which will be most affected by the costs incurred by the new directive. The rupture was evident until the outcome of the vote, with Spanish and Italian MEPs calling the text "unfair" only a few minutes before the vote.

The comfortable majority with which the directive was approved does not hide the fact that most MEPs remain dissatisfied with this compromise. While speakers for the EPP, S&D, ALDE, ECR, Greens-EFA GUE-NGL groups did call their respective troops to vote for the text - and congratulated the rapporteur - they did not hide their disappointment at its reduced scope, as compared to the initial ambitions.

The fact that applying the directive is voluntary and does not require states to assign revenues from tolls for "external costs" in the transport sector was strongly criticised. As El Khadraoui conceded from the start, "the concrete impact on the field will be dependent on the good will of member states". "We are merely making things possible." Similarly, Commissioner Siim Kallas (transport) and Gyori essentially highlighted the fact that the new directive is a "first step in the right direction" - that of making the polluter pay.

The directive will be applied in two years. The compromise sees the Commission presenting a report on its application four years after its entry into force and, if need be, a proposal for its revision. This will likely provide an opportunity for the debates to continue.
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 8, 2011

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