September 7, 2014 / 1:27 PM / 4 years ago

Germany's divisive road toll plan could make a loss: magazine

BERLIN (Reuters) - A plan to introduce toll roads in Germany aimed mainly at foreigners, which has already divided the ruling coalition, is flawed and even loss-making, according to internal government documents published in Der Spiegel magazine on Sunday.

The proposal has caused a row within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government because the Christian Social Union (CSU), her Bavarian sister party, insists on it while her Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrat (SPD) partners are skeptical about whether it conforms to European Union rules.

Internal government reports by the Finance, Interior and Economy ministries obtained by Der Spiegel show the toll might cost the government more money than it generates, and that it might be in violation of Germany’s constitution and EU rules.

Critics say the proposed toll is designed to fleece foreigners because German motorists would have to pay, on average, an 88-euro annual fee to use the roads but their annual car taxes would be reduced by the same amount. Thus the new toll would in effect only be paid for by foreign motorists.

CSU chairman and Bavaria state premier Horst Seehofer criticized the CDU for sabotaging the plans for the toll, which was a major CSU campaign issue in Bavaria, where motorists complain about paying tolls abroad in neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland.

“Does the CDU want the toll or not? - it’s time for the CDU to come clean and tell us what they want,” Seehofer told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily in an interview to appear on Monday.

“It’s strange that the position of the finance ministry is leaked,” Seehofer said of the ministry run by Wolfgang Schaeuble of the CDU. “That confirms my suspicion that the finance minister is doing everything he can to prevent it.”

Seehofer, whose party is the smallest in the three-way CDU, CSU and SPD coalition, threatened to raise the pressure after state elections next Sunday in two eastern German states. He warned the CSU would fight hard to honor its campaign promise.

“We’re going to become more clear about it after that,” he said. “The CSU has so far cooperated with all of the coalition’s projects, from the minimum wage to lowering the pension age to 63. We didn’t sabotage any of those.

“We now expect that kind of support in return for the toll.”

Merkel and the SPD long opposed the toll and reluctantly agreed to back it provided it did not lead to any extra costs for German motorists and also complied with EU rules that prohibit discrimination against foreign motorists.

German parliament experts have said the plan might still violate EU rules because of the differential treatment. The Transport Ministry has said the toll could generate an additional 600 million euros in annual revenues. But the Finance Ministry said administration costs might exceed the revenues.

Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Rosalind Russell

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