BERLIN, July 7 Germany's Transport Minister outlined proposals for a new road toll on Monday, attracting immediate comdemnation from critics, including neighbouring Austria, who say it would effectively only charge foreigners.
Alexander Dobrindt said the toll could generate an extra 2.5 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in each four-year legislative period, and would see the drivers of foreign vehicles contributing to their upkeep.
German drivers would also pay the toll, but would be compensated with a reduction in existing automobile taxes.
"We see some 170 million trips by cars registered abroad on German roads each year. These are not involved in financing our infrastructure in any way," said Dobrindt. "We want to bridge that gap and we want all users of our streets to contribute to their maintenance."
His plan met with resistance from neighbouring states, driver groups and lawmakers from within Germany's ruling right-left coalition, complicating its chances of becoming law.
Introducing such a levy was a condition however for forming a coalition imposed by Dobrindt's Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party to Angela Merkel's conservatives in the southern state of Bavaria, which sees a huge amount of transit traffic.
Before last September's federal election Merkel said there would be no road toll during her tenure, although it was ultimately included in the government's coalition agreement as a way of financing Germany's neglected roads and bridges.
There are also concerns over whether such a toll could comply with EU law, as it could be interpreted as discriminating against foreigners.
"Non-discrimination is a basic principle of EU law. It applies to road charging as to everything else," said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman of EU Transportation Commissioner Siim Kallas, on Monday.
Dobrindt said on Monday he was confident the plans were EU-compliant as all drivers, including German ones, would have to pay. He has also said however that it would result in no additional financial burden for German drivers.
He wants the charge, which would need approval by parliament and the European Union, in place by Jan. 1, 2016.
Sharing a border with nine different nations, Germany has the most neighbouring states of any European country. Austrian Transport Minister Doris Bures has threatened to take legal action against Germany if the toll treats foreigners differently.
"Austria will take every legal step to ensure to stop this discrimination of Austrian drivers... any country can levy a toll, the most important thing is that it does not discriminate against other states," she told Austrian broadcaster ORF.
Under the proposals, a 10-day pass will cost 10 euros, a pass for two months would cost 20 euros. Annual passes would be priced according to a car's emissions and size. Dobrindt said foreign drivers would pay on average about 88 euros per year. (Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Ralph Boulton)