German cabinet backs Autobahn tolls for foreigners
Germany's cabinet signed off on a plan Wednesday to charge foreign motorists for using the country's famed Autobahn highways, despite warnings it may breach EU non-discrimination rules.
Under the plan, drivers of German and foreign-registered cars would pay tolls on highways and country roads from 2016, but Germans would be reimbursed through a cut in their motor vehicle tax.
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the plan for a toll from 2016 was "fair and sensible" and would raise 500 million euros ($620 million) annually to be reinvested in Germany's road infrastructure.
The toll badge would cost up to 130 euros a year, depending on a car's age, engine size and emissions, while drivers of foreign-registered cars could buy 10-day badges for 10 euros or two-month badges for 20 euros.
The European Commission has warned that the proposed laws may breach the EU principle of non-discrimination, while Austria and the Netherlands have signalled they may challenge the plan before the European Court of Justice.
The toll was a key demand in last year's election campaign of Dobrindt's Christian Social Union (CSU), the more conservative Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
The idea plays well with Bavarian drivers angered by having to pay highway tolls when they visit nearby Austria, Switzerland and other European countries while foreign motorists traverse Germany for free.
Merkel's centre-left coalition partners the Social Democrats have often criticised the plan, with their senior lawmaker Soeren Bartol predicting "a difficult legislative process as there are many open questions".
CSU chief Horst Seehofer rejected criticism of the toll plan, telling national news agency DPA that "the almost daily objections don't aim to improve the law but to throw a spanner in the works".
© 2014 AFP