March 27, 2015 / 12:51 PM / 3 years ago

Germany passes road toll; critics say unfairly targets foreigners

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s parliament approved a motorway toll on Friday of up to 130 euros per year from 2016 that critics argue unfairly targets foreigners and may violate European Union laws.

A prolonged debate about the toll, which the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) had firmly rejected in the 2013 election campaign, exposed frictions in their grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

German drivers would also pay the toll but would be compensated with a corresponding reduction in existing automobile taxes, which critics inside and outside the ruling grand coalition say contravenes EU rules.

“This measure conforms with European law - it’s high time you all believed that,” Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told members of parliament during a debate before the measure passed.

The toll was a pet project of Dobrindt and his Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party, though Merkel’s bigger Christian Democrat (CDU) sister party and the SPD were long sceptical.

Merkel and the SPD agreed to the measure provided it conformed with EU rules that bar discrimination against foreigners. Last month a report by EU experts cast doubt on the toll as discriminatory.

“The SPD is being dragged by their noses into this by the CSU even though they always argued it would violate EU rules,” said Anton Hofreiter, a leader of the opposition Greens. “You ought to be ashamed. What kind of European role model is this?”

The European Court of Justice will also examine the law.

Dobrindt argued that the new motorway toll will generate some 500 million euros for the state each year, which would be invested in transport infrastructure.

Foreign motorists would be able to buy short-term passes costing between 5 and 30 euros for 10-day to two-month periods.

Dobrindt’s CSU had long wanted foreign motorists to pay tolls on motorways because they say it is unfair that foreigners travel for free in Germany while Germans have to pay tolls in neighbouring countries such as Austria, Switzerland and France.

Additional reporting by Markus Wacket; writing by Erik Kirschbaum

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