Today, the negotiators from the Council and the European Parliament reached a political agreement on revised road charging rules (Eurovignette directive), to address greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts, congestion and road infrastructure financing.
Today’s agreement on road pricing, with stronger and wider rules and a new scheme to address CO2 emissions, is a crucial element in decarbonising transport and meeting climate targets in line with the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement. By incentivising cleaner transport operations, it provides 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. Concluding the negotiations on this proposal has been a high priority for the Portuguese presidency.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Portuguese Minister for Infrastructure and Housing, President of the Council
Distance-based tolls and time-based user charges (vignettes)
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 common system of vignettes, such as the Eurovignette Treaty, they will have two additional years to adapt or dissolve that system.
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 in cases of low population density or where a vignette applies to a limited section of a road, after the Commission has been notified.
Member states will also have the option of setting up a combined charging system for heavy-duty vehicles, or for some types of heavy-duty vehicle, which would bring together distance- and time-based elements and integrate the two variation tools (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 own road charging systems.
As a basic 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.
Greening of road charges
A new EU-wide tool will be introduced for varying infrastructure and user charges for heavy-duty vehicles based on CO2 emissions, as provided for by the Council’s original position. The variation will be based on the existing CO2 standards. Initially, the scheme will only apply to the largest trucks, but it can gradually be extended to other types of heavy-duty vehicle and regularly adapted to technological progress through implementing acts.
Some improvements have been made to the Council’s position, and these are designed to ensure that hybrid vehicles are not rewarded twice and to avoid any possible overlaps of the CO2 variation with other carbon-pricing instruments.
Variation of tolls or user charges based on environmental performance will apply to vans and minibuses from 2026, where technically practicable.
External cost charge
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 apply 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, in particular in support of the trans-European transport network. However, they are not obliged to do so. With regard to revenues generated by optional congestion charges, or their equivalent in financial value, member states will use them to address congestion issues, or to 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.
The agreed text includes a number of exemptions, concerning, for example, existing concession contracts, disabled persons and sparsely populated areas.
After some further work at 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.
This will be followed by adoption by both the Council and the European Parliament.
Member states will have two years from the entry into force of the directive in which to incorporate the provisions into their national law.
Background: EU road charging rules
Road charging is a national choice in the EU, and member states can choose whether or not to introduce it on their territory. However, if they do opt to levy charges, they must follow certain common rules laid down in the Eurovignette directive. The aim of this is to ensure 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.