Austria says it will take Germany to court over autobahn ‘foreigner tolls’

Germany's upper house of parliament on Friday approved a controversial law imposing tolls on the country's famous autobahns (motorways), in the face of objections from neighbouring countries who say it discriminates against foreign drivers.

Austria says it will take Germany to court over autobahn 'foreigner tolls'
Photo: Wolkenkratzer/CC BY-SA 4.0

Austria immediately announced it would file a legal challenge with the European Court of Justice.

The law is the result of a compromise struck with the European Commission last month, after it threatened to take Germany to court if the toll project was not made fairer to foreigners.

It includes lower costs for the short-term passes most likely to be used by visitors, with prices for a 10-day pass now starting at €2.50 ($2.67) for the most environmentally friendly cars.

The price for an annual pass will be capped at 130 euros for German and foreign cars, but German-registered drivers will essentially be refunded the money thanks to a matching reduction on their motor vehicle tax bill.

Berlin's plans have angered neighbouring Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands which see the toll as a levy on foreign cars only.

It was “not a good sign for Europe” that Germany was introducing the toll, Green party politician Winfried Kretschmann told the Bundesrat — the upper house of parliament representing Germany's federal states — on Friday, calling it a “foreigner toll” that would inflict “great political damage”.

German states that border other countries fear the toll will discourage tourism and trade with neighbours.

But conservative transport minister Alexander Dobrindt has rejected the criticism, saying that most cross-border traffic moves on smaller roads not subject to the charge.

Austrian Transport Minister Jörg Leichtfried, announcing in Vienna the planned legal challenge, called the European Commission's behaviour “scandalous” and the toll “discrimination based on nationality”.

READ ALSO: Six reasons why I never want to drive on the autobahn again 


Austria to reopen border with Germany for visits and shopping

People from Bavaria will be able to pop over the border into Austria and vice versa to visit friends and relatives from Wednesday, Bavaria's Minister Markus Söder and Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz have announced.

Bavaria's State Premier Markus Söder and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz met in Munich (Sven Hoppe/POOL/AFP)
Bavaria's State Premier Markus Söder and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz met in Munich (Sven Hoppe/POOL/AFP)

People will once again be able to travel between Bavaria in Germany and Austria to visit friends or relatives or go cross-border shopping from Wednesday, May 12th. 

The news was announced by Bavaria’s Minister Markus Söder during a visit by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to Munich on Tuesday.

The opening will occur one week before tourism is due to open up in both Bavaria and Austria.

In Austria, hotels and restaurants will open on May 19th, while Bavaria will open up tourism on May 21st. The seven-day incidences of both regions are promising, Austria’s was less than 100 on Tuesday, while Bavaria ‘s stands at 116.

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the border region between Austria and Bavaria was “interwoven unlike hardly any other region in Europe”, and said he was looking forward to the borders opening again.

Bavaria Minister Markus Söder said tourism in Austria would be possible for Germans from the Whitsun holidays, providing the emergency brake was not needed.

He said Bavaria and Austria were “close friends and partners”, who had both been “badly affected” by the coronavirus pandemic, concluding that both countries were now “on a long home stretch”.