French officials have long been irritated by the fact that foreign trucks can pass through France without paying their way for the upkeep of the country's roads. But the new environment minister Ségolène Royal is planning to change all that.
After the contentious eco-tax on HGVs was scrapped following violent protests last year, Royal suggested this week that it could return in a new form – specifically targetting foreign haulage companies. Essentially Royal's goal is to prevent foreign trucks from clogging up French national roads without them paying their way.
Speaking to French media this week Royal said one of the options they were considering was to make truck drivers buy a toll pass or “vignette” as it is known, at the border, that would be based on the model currently enforced in Switzerland.
'It's legitimate to target foreign companies'
“It would be absolutely legitimate to that a foreign truck that crosses the country contributes towards the upkeep of the roads that they use,” Royal told RMC BFM TV on Tuesday.
Royal is unhappy that foreign truck drivers fill up their petrol tanks in Belgium, drive across France and then fill up again in Spain, to avoid paying the famous TIPP tax on petrol, which is used for maintaining roads.
The minister, who was brought into the government in a reshuffle earlier this month, also wants to force foreign trucks onto France’s motorway network, where hefty tolls are levied on HGVs, to free up the often-clogged national roads.
This would lead to greater profits for the French motorway companies, which manage the network, and as a result the state would be entitled to a slice of that extra revenue, Royal says.
France’s controversial HGV eco-tax was originally planned to apply to all French and foreign vehicles transporting commercial goods weighing over 3.5 tons which use the 15,000km of national and municipal roads.
But after several violent protests, notably in Brittany former French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault suspended its introduction indefinitely at the end of October.
Critics say the ecotax would seriously damage Brittany's farming and food sectors by increasing transportation costs - driving some companies out of business and leading to major job losses.
Hitting foreign trucks would prove popular move
The government insists the tax, has been only been put on the back burner, but it’s clear that if it were to target only foreign trucks, it would no doubt prove far more popular.
The federation of French haulage drivers "congratulated" for the proposal which it says reflects what they have been proposing for a long time.
Jean Vincent Placé head of the Greens in the Senate, who stressed the importance of bringing in the ecotax said: "It appears a bit of a fantasy to make foreigners pay, but nevertheless it's an interesting idea."
UMP former Paris mayoral candidate Nathalie Kosciuscko-Morizet also welcomed the notion of hitting foreign haulage companies in the pocket: “Today foreign trucks do not pay anything because they don’t take the motorways. You can have a foreign truck that drives right across France and pays nothing, not even the tax on petrol," she said.
But NKM, as she is known, also warned that the plan might run aground in Brussels.
“However there is also European laws. We cannot charge differently for the same service or for the same use of road,” she said. “In principle it’s a good idea but you can’t just do what you want in reality.”