Rhein on Energy and Climate

After two years of debate the Council of Transport ministers has arrived at a political compromise concerning the Commission proposal for charging the external costs – air pollution, noise and congestion –caused by lorries. This will be the first time that heavy duty lorries will subject to the principle “polluter pays”. It is a big political victory even if the Council agreement falls short of a satisfactory inclusion of congestion costs and C02 emissions.

The Council agreement will authorise member states to impose a charge of 3-4 cents per km for “external costs” in addition to the 20-25 cents presently allowed as infrastructure charge. The charge will be levied automatically, using EU – compatible methods.

For Lorries with an estimated 300.000 km annual haul it will mean an extra cost of up to € 12.000, which is anything but peanuts.

The new rule will apply to all roads, and not only to the 30 000 km roads included in trans- national networks (TNT).

Trucks complying with the most stringent air pollution standards (Euro V and Euro VI) will be exempt from for the levies on air pollution until 2014 and 2018 respectively.

The most controversial issue has been the proper inclusion of congestion charges. The final compromise allows member states to increase their

infrastructure levy by 75 percent for peak traffic.

The European Parliament will have to endorse this political compromise. It is likely to approve it rapidly, possible after some more efforts to beef it up.

The directive will be optional for member states. But the Commission reserves the right to review its results in 2013 in view of making it mandatory and including C02 emissions.

Indeed, C02 emissions from road transport are expected to rise by one third until 2020. Unlike passenger traffic subject to C02 emission standards for cars, trucks are so far exempt from any C02 restraints. That situation is unsustainable.

The EU has to send a signal to truck manufacturers and users calling upon them to be more environmentally and climate friendly.

The amended directive will be a first step to that end. By putting it into force the EU will once again break ground compared to other countries.

But to be effective it will also have to offer proper inducements to the hauling industry to use trains instead of roads. This will require the completion of the north –south high-speed rail axis from Rotterdam/Antwerp/Bremen to Milan/Genes before 2020 and of the east-west axis before 2030.

European transport policy is a complex process, often requiring differentiated rules adapted to different situations in 27 member states.

But it is above all a very long-term process requiring decades of foresight and planning. The legislative procedures of the Lisbon Treaty should ease some of these difficulties.

Brussels 25.10.10 Eberhard Rhein

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