Germany to charge foreign motorists for using its roads

BERLIN (AFP) - The German parliament passed Friday a law to charge foreign motorists for using the country's famed Autobahn network, drawing angry reactions from neighbouring states and threats of legal action.

Drivers of German and foreign-registered cars are to pay tolls on highways and country roads from 2016, but Germans are be reimbursed through a cut in their motor vehicle tax.

Sponsors of the law said it will generate around 500 million euros (S$756.7 million) per year in revenue to invest in German roads and bridges.

The toll badge will cost up to 130 euros a year, depending on a car's age, engine size and emissions, while drivers of foreign-registered cars can buy 10-day or two-month badges.

The measure, launched by the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, won a majority in the Bundesrat upper house after clearing the Bundestag lower house in March.

The idea plays well with Germans angered by having to pay highway tolls when they visit nearby Austria, Switzerland and other European countries while foreign motorists traverse Germany for free.

"The toll will guarantee the long-term development or our infrastructure," Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said.

However other countries warned the measure may breach EU non-discrimination rules.

"Austria continues to consider the German move contrary to EU law and has sought legal advice on this," a spokeswoman for its transport minister, Alois Stoeger, told AFP.

"Once the toll becomes law in Germany, expected in June or July, we will launch a complaint with the European Commission, which has three months to respond. All else failing, we will take legal action."

The Netherlands, which noted that Germany was its citizens' top tourist destination, will work with other affected countries and the European Commission "with the aim of stopping the launch of this toll," Infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen said in a statement.