LUXEMBOURG (CN) — German highway tolls are too high, the EU’s high court ruled Wednesday, calling out the country’s inclusion of policing costs in autobahn fees.
“Member States which introduce or maintain tolls on the trans-European road network [have] a precise and unconditional obligation to determine the level of those tolls taking into account ‘infrastructure costs’ only, that is to say, the costs of constructing, operating, maintaining and developing the infrastructure network concerned,” the decision from the European Court of Justice’s First Chamber in Luxembourg states.
Two Polish trucking companies, identified in court documents as BY and CZ, brought the challenge at issue after their combined tolls to use German highways between 2010 and 2011 came to about $14,500.
Since 2005, all trucks over 7.5 metric tons have faced a toll in Germany specific to heavy goods vehicles. The HGV toll is assessed based on the weight of the vehicle and how much pollution a vehicle emits. According to the court, around 3.8% of the assessed toll was to offset the costs of traffic police monitoring the roads.
While a court in Cologne initially ruled against the trucking companies, their appellate chances stand better now as the case returns from Luxembourg to the Higher Administrative Court for the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Wednesday’s ruling aligns with a recommendation from Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe, who wrote in June: “The concept of ‘operating costs’ relates to the costs incurred in the operation of the motorway. The operation of a motorway does not, however, extend to police activities.”
The five-judge panel agreed. “Police activities are the responsibility of the State acting in the exercise of its public powers, and not an operator of the road infrastructure,” the 11-page opinion states.
In the event that the court ruled against it, Germany requested the adjustment not be made retroactive, citing “the serious financial consequences that would result.” The court refused, writing: “Germany has not adduced evidence which is capable of satisfying the criterion that those concerned should have acted in good faith.” If the court felt that Germany had made a good-faith error, it could exempt Germany from having to refund the 15 years’ worth of extra tolls.
Europe aimed to standardize road tolls across the 27-member-state political and economic union in 1999 with a directive specifying that “tolls shall be based on the principle of the recovery of infrastructure costs only.”
It’s not the first time the high court has rejected Germany’s arguments over road tolls. In 2019, the Court of Justice found that the country discriminated against foreign drivers by making everyone pay a highway toll and then giving a tax rebate only to residents.
The German Transport Ministry said in a statement it would take note of the ruling. The case now returns to the Higher Administrative Court for the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia for a final decision.