On 16 June, the Council and the European Parliament negotiations reached a political agreement on revising road charging rules (Eurovignette directive). The aim is to address greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, congestion and road infrastructure financing.

By establishing stricter and broader rules with a new scheme to address CO2 emissions, the agreement on road pricing is a significant element to meet the climate targets in line with the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. Incentivising cleaner transport operations provide a clear signal and legal certainty to vehicle manufacturers and hauliers for the next decade, as called for by the industry, environmental organisations, and other stakeholders.

Road charging is a national choice in the EU, and member states can choose to introduce it, but they must follow specific standard rules laid down in the Eurovignette directive if they opt to levy charges. It ensures that the imposition of road charges does not discriminate against international traffic or result in the distortion of competition between transport operators. The Commission presented the proposal for a revised Eurovignette directive in May 2017 as part of the first mobility package.

A new EU-wide tool will be introduced for varying infrastructure and user charges for heavy-duty vehicles based on existing CO2 emissions standards, as provided for by the Council’s original position. Initially, the system will only apply to giant trucks, but it can gradually be extended to other heavy-duty vehicles and regularly adapted to technological progress through implementing acts. The aim is to ensure that hybrid cars are not rewarded twice and avoid any possible overlaps of the CO2 variation with other carbon-pricing instruments. The interpretation of tolls or user charges based on environmental performance will apply to vans and minibuses from 2026, where technically practicable.

Distance-based tolls and time-based user charges (vignettes)

The current time-based vignettes will be phased out for heavy-duty vehicles on the core TEN-T network within eight years of the entry into force of the directive. In cases where member states apply a standard system of vignettes, such as the Eurovignette Treaty, they will have two additional years to adapt or dissolve this system. While the roads covered by the phasing-out represent the main routes where most international transit of commercial vehicles takes place, member states may continue to apply vignettes on other parts of their network.

Exemptions to the phasing-out of vignettes are allowed in duly justified cases, such as low population density or when a vignette applies to a limited section of a road. Member states will also have the option of setting up a combined charging system for heavy-duty vehicles. It would bring together distance- and time-based elements by integrating the two variation tools, including the new one based on CO2 emissions and the existing one based on EURO classes. This system will allow full implementation of the ‘user pays’, and ‘polluter pays’ principles while allowing member states the necessary flexibility to design their road charging schemes.

As a fundamental principle of road charging, however, member states retain the freedom to apply tolls and user charges for different categories of vehicles, such as heavy-duty vehicles, heavy goods vehicles, coaches and buses, light-duty vehicles, light commercial vehicles, minibuses and passenger cars, independently of one another. For example, member states may decide not to charge buses at all. The rules on the proportionality of vignette prices for passenger cars will include an obligation to apply a daily vignette for cars or occasional travellers in transit.

External cost charging for air pollution will become mandatory for heavy-duty vehicles after a four-year transition period, where tolls are applied. However, member states will be allowed to not use this charge after notifying the Commission if it would lead to diversion of traffic that would have unintended negative consequences. In any case, member states may apply an external cost charge for CO2 emissions.

Revenue earmarking and mark-ups

The main principles for earmarking road charge revenues will remain unchanged. In general, member states should earmark revenue generated by infrastructure and external cost charges for projects in the transport sector, particularly in support of the trans-European transport network. However, they are not obliged to do so. Concerning revenues generated by optional congestion charges or equivalent in financial value, member states will use them to address congestion issues or develop sustainable transport and mobility in general. The rules will allow member states to apply a higher mark-up (up to 50%) to the infrastructure charge levied on specific highly congested road sections if all affected member states agree.

Next steps

The agreed text includes several exemptions concerning, for example, existing concession contracts, disabled persons and sparsely populated areas. After some further work at a technical level to finalise the text, the presidency will submit the outcome of the negotiations to the Council’s Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) for endorsement. It will follow by adoption by both the Council and the European Parliament, and member states will have two years from the entry into force of the directive to incorporate the provisions into their national law.

Source: The Council of the European Union & The European Council