Commission follows FIA on Slovenian toll roads discrimination
Publication date: 14 November 2008
Since 1 July 2008, a new motorway toll sticker “vignette” system for passenger cars and motorcycles is applicable in Slovenia. This road user charge is applied to both national and foreign motorists using the Slovenian road network (consisting of 464.7 km) of motorways and express ways. In a letter to European Commissioner for Transport, Antonio Tajani, Kraus explained how the new charge system has massively increased toll costs in Slovenia, in some cases by several hundred per cent to the detriment in particular of foreigners transiting the country by car.
Letters sent by FIA Region 1 President, Werner Kraus, have spurred the European Commission into action. On 2nd October last, the first formal step in launching an infringement procedure against Slovenia for the way in which they have introduced their new road toll vignette was taken. By sending what is known in Brussels jargon as a “letter of formal notice”, the Commission gave the Slovenian authorities a month to respond before considering further action. This could even end up with the Commission taking Slovenia to the European Court of Justice if the state refuses to change its law. If Slovenia fails to respond adequately, the Commission will issue “a reasoned opinion”. There are usually six months between the first letter and reasoned opinion. If Slovenia still fails to comply then, the case is taken to the European Court of Justice, whose judgment is binding.
The Commission's letter of formal notice concerns the changes made by Slovenia in its transport law that entered into force in July 2008. “By introducing only annual and half-year motorway toll vignettes for passenger cars and annual vignettes for motorcycles, these changes particularly place foreign nationals or foreign residents occasionally using the motorway network in Slovenia in a worse position than nationals or Slovenian residents due to the lack of proportionately-priced charges for transit or shorter term usage of the motorway infrastructure,” argue Commission officials acting after the tip off by the FIA.
The EU legal framework for road charging does not cover passenger cars or motorcycles. European Member States are generally free to set up their own systems of tolling without any interference from Brussels. However, Members States are, obliged to respect general principles enshrined in European law that forbid any discrimination of any European citizens on the grounds of nationality. For the European Commission this includes any kind of unequal treatment even if it is not explicitly tied to nationality, but which by the application of other criteria of differentiation, leads in fact to the same result. This is why FIA Region 1 President Werner Kraus alerted EU authorities of the new Slovenian road charging system.
“No consideration has been given to the short stay requirements of tourists motoring to or transiting through Slovenia en route for destinations in neighbouring countries like Croatia for example,” Kraus told Tajani and also European Commission Vice-President Günther Verheugen. “With the average tourist stay in Slovenia being three nights it is neither fair nor consumer-friendly to require that such visitors to Slovenia when travelling by car should have to purchase a vignette for a minimum of six months,” wrote Kraus. He notes further that motorists can either purchase a vignette valid for a year (€55 Euro) or one valid for six months (€35 euro). For motorcyclists, a one year vignette costs €27.50 Euro and six months €17.50 euro. Failure to use a valid and properly displayed sticker is punishable by up to €800. This is much more severe than neighbouring Austria (where the fine is €120 euro). In its operation, the system is not ideal either since motorists are not informed on crossing the Slovenian border about the obligation to have the vignette. The first time they know it is when they are stopped by police and fined as verified by Dutch tourists in their complaints to ANWB.
“In other Member States, operating similar vignette systems for passenger cars and motorcycles, such discrimination against non-resident EU citizens is not tolerated,” stated Kraus. He points to Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Hungary offering vignettes of shorter duration (seven or ten days) for visitors. Austria’s own attempt to introduce a minimum duration vignette of two months in 1996 was even blocked by the then Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock. Kinnock, a Welshman, made Austria introduce a 10-day vignette so as to avoid discrimination against short stay visitors and an obstacle to circulating freely in Europe.
A vignette system must be non-discriminatory, noted Antonio Preto, head of cabinet for Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani. Replying to Kraus on Tajani's behalf, “It should not discriminate between frequent and occasional users, a high proportion of such users being likely to be non-nationals. In this respect, I share your concerns as regards the negative impacts of the road charging scheme implemented by Slovenia," wrote Preto.
Developments in this issue are still on going. Boris Perko, President of the Slovenian Automobile Club has also lent his support to this initiative and has had talks with the outgoing Prime Minister. A rapid reaction from Slovenia has been stalled due the elections on 8th October and a subsequent change of Government. Slovenia has promised to rectify this situation by next year. However the question remains whether this will be soon enough for the European Commission…
For more information contact: Caroline Ofoegbu