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EU Warns Germany on Plans to Charge Foreign Drivers Highway Toll

The European Commission said a planned highway toll in Germany must treat foreign motorists the same as domestic drivers, casting doubt on the legality of a measure intended to target non-German users of the autobahn.

A proposal to allow toll reductions for autos with lower emissions is possible, as long as it meets European Union regulations on equal treatment of motorists, Commission spokeswoman Helen Kearns told reporters today in Brussels.

“The principle of non-discrimination is the basic one that applies to everything,” Kearns said. “There is a margin for flexibility, as long as everyone is treated equally.”

The commission comment is a warning to German policy makers as they attempt to adhere to a campaign pledge made by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies to raise infrastructure revenue by targeting foreign drivers.

Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian prime minister who heads Merkel’s Christian Social Union sister party, vowed during last year’s election campaign to charge a toll on foreign cars, even as Merkel and Social Democratic officials dismissed the idea as a violation of EU rules. The CSU set the toll as a condition for entering a “grand coalition” with Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SPD.

The coalition agreement signed last month pledges to establish a toll on passenger cars not registered in Germany, while not burdening German-registered motorists -- for example by offsetting a new toll by curtailing registration fees -- and adhering to European regulations.

Newly installed Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, a CSU member and Seehofer confidant, came up with preliminary plans to issue temporary road-toll stickers for autobahn access and reductions for low-emission vehicles, Der Spiegel reported this week.

European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas expressed doubt about the plan, according to an interview published in today’s Bild newspaper.

There can’t be free road-toll stickers “or rebates for German-registered cars alone,” Kallas told the newspaper.

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