* Rare public row splits conservatives before regional polls
* Bavaria-based party wants motorway toll for foreign
* Merkel says plan must comply with EU law
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, Aug 25 German Chancellor Angela Merkel's
Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian coalition partner
have clashed in an unusually public spat over plans to introduce
a motorway toll that critics say is designed to fleece
Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) want foreign
motorists to pay tolls on German motorways and other roads. They
say it is unfair that foreigners travel for free on German
motorways while Germans have to pay tolls in neighbouring
countries such as Austria, Switzerland and France.
Senior CDU members, Armin Laschet and Thomas Strobl, said
the introduction of tolls on all roads and motorways would
impose an excessive burden on motorists and cause more problems
than they would solve for Germany's regions.
Their criticism drew an angry response from CSU deputy
leader Andreas Scheuer in Monday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.
"That just shows how completely clueless they are," he said,
in a surprisingly sharp rebuke of the centre-right CDU that
exposed the split in Germany's conservative camp on the eve of
elections in three German regions that start on Sunday.
"The toll is going to be introduced on all roads in
Germany," Scheuer said, whose conservative party agrees with the
CDU on most other issues.
Opinion polls show Germans favour a road toll for
foreigners. The issue is especially sensitive in Bavaria, a
major crossroads for foreign motorists travelling from northern
European countries to the Balkans and southern Europe.
The motorway toll issue has dominated German media for
months, vying with major international crises such as Ukraine,
Syria and Gaza for public attention.
The CSU pressed the motorway toll issue in coalition talks
after last year's German federal elections.
But Merkel's CDU and its other coalition ally, the
centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), said they would only back
the toll if it did not lead to extra costs for German motorists
and if it complied with European Union rules that prohibit
discrimination against foreign motorists.
German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, a CSU leader,
has proposed a compromise whereby annual taxes now paid by all
German motorists would be lowered by about the same 88-euro fee
the envisaged annual motorway toll would cost.
German parliament experts have said the plan might still
violate EU rules.
Dobrindt has said the planned toll could generate an
additional 2.5 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in annual revenues
for the budget.
"Foreign drivers don't pay anything at all to use German
roads while we've got to pay to use roads abroad," said Ilse
Aigner, Bavaria's state economy minister, on Monday.
Merkel, who long opposed the toll and reluctantly agreed to
back it provided her conditions are met, said in an interview
with ARD television on Sunday she expected "a lively discussion"
on the issue in the months ahead and said the Dobrindt plan was
now under study in Brussels to see if it conformed to EU rules.
"And after that we'll keep on talking about it," she said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)