After Germany, Wallonia is also thinking about introducing a road toll. A resolution on tolls was recently discussed on 11 February at the Budget Committee  of the Walloon Regional Government.  The intention for the Walloon road toll follows the German idea: a road vignette, with a price differentiated over time. The Walloon taxpayer can deduct the cost of the road vignette from his road tax. The additional revenue is estimated at 50 million euros per year, which is actually paid by foreign car users, including the Flemish.

German toll: no discrimination?

The German Government has already adopted a law introducing a road toll vignette in 2015. This will take effect from 2020. Austria has challenged this toll before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the grounds of discrimination. German motorists are compensated for the toll by means of a deduction from the road tax, while foreign motorists cannot. According to Austria, there is, therefore, a difference in treatment between the two. This view is supported by the Netherlands.

In this case, Advocate General Wahl recently advised the ECJ. Wahl concludes that the German plan is not in conflict with the European non-discrimination rules. A distinction is made between the German national as a motorist on the one hand and as German national as taxpayer on the other. As a motorist, the German is treated the same as the foreign motorist. After all, tolls apply to both domestic and foreign drivers. There is therefore no more disadvantageous treatment between motorists. The German, as a taxpayer, receives the reduction on the road tax. Since the foreign motorist has no tax liability for the road tax, there is no equal situation and therefore no discrimination possible.

The ECJ is not obliged to follow the opinion of Wahl. Nevertheless, the past shows that the opinion of the Advocate General is often followed.

Financial impact mainly on border regions

Previous news reports from ITEM Expertise Centre (‘The German Autobahn toll scheme: its effects on the border regions‘ and ‘Effecten van Duitse tol op grensregio’s nader onderzocht‘) have briefly explained the consequences of the German toll for border regions. The research results of Ecorys consultancy, commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management, estimate that the total costs will amount to 60 to 100 million euros, of which approximately 40% will be borne by the border regions.

A Walloon toll will affect the border region once again. It is likely that the expected additional revenue of €50 million will be largely accounted for by the border region.

Because of the toll, Dutch drivers will be confronted with road tax in the Netherlands and toll in the border countries. This means that they actually pay more than the German and Walloon motorists after the introduction of a toll. From a cost perspective, Dutch frontier work to Wallonia and Germany will become more unattractive, whereas German and Walloon frontier work to the Netherlands will become more advantageous and therefore more attractive.

Inefficient domino effect

In the 2017 Cross-Border Effects Report of the ITEM Expertise Centre (‘Dossier 1: The potential effects of the German toll on border regions’ ), research was conducted into the German toll system. A survey showed that many motorists in the border region most likely will avoid the toll when introduced. It is expected that this will result in a large amount of diversion from highway to secondary road. This, again, reduces the effect of toll collection.

In the report researchers Martin Unfried and Barbara Hamacher also concluded that the introduction of a national toll will cause a chain reaction. The Walloon plan, encouraged by Germany, endorses this chain reaction. Such a chain reaction is also in conflict with the legislative proposal of the European Commission in May 2017 for a European, trajectory-related toll system, which will levy a tax depending on the kilometres driven and CO2 emissions.

The accumulation of national tolls leads to an increase in bureaucracy, which increases the administrative burden on cross-border workers. In addition, the survey shows that the feeling of Euroregional solidarity and cooperation is strongly negatively influenced: an open border becomes less of value.

What will happen next?

The ruling of the ECJ is still on hold. Depending on this ruling, Wallonia will also consider its proposal for a toll. A reaction from other authorities, such as the Netherlands and Flanders, with the introduction of their own toll is plausible, with all the consequences for Europe.

The Flemish Government has now indicated that they are not in favour of such a toll. The latter sees more in a kilometre charge than under the Commission proposal. The bimonthly meetings between the Flemish and Walloon mobility ministers will therefore be devoted to discussing the topic.