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French motorway toll charges set to rise next year

Motorway tariffs in France are set to rise again next year, says the transport ministry.

A queue of vehicles at a motorway toll area in Yvelines, near Paris, France
Photo: Stephane de Sakutin / AFP

Autoroute tolls are set to rise by more than two percent in the next three months, according to figures from France’s Ministry of Transport, in a further blow for motorists having to cope with rising prices at the fuel pumps.

France’s autoroute motorways are privately operated and have toll booths, known as péage, at regular intervals.

The ASF network, which is owned by Vinci, has put forward plans to increase tolls on its motorway network by 2.19 percent from February 1st, 2022, while Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône (APRR) is seeking an increase of 2.05 percent. 

The government has to formally approve these new rates. Strict contracts between the autoroute operators and the State provide for an annual automatic increase in tolls on February 1st, with calculations based on inflation and works undertaken on the network.

Inflation in France, driven by rising energy prices and the increased cost of manufactured goods, has been accelerating since the summer: from  1.2 percent in July, to 2.8 percent in November. 

But “[Autoroute] tolls on February 1st, 2022, will not increase more than inflation,” according to one source quoted by AFP.

In early 2019, at the height of the yellow vests protest, the government negotiated, after “intense discussions” with the motorway companies, a 30 percent cut in tolls for regular motorway users. 

The government ruled out the idea of ​​freezing toll prices, as the former Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal had decided in 2015, because they would have had to be caught up later.

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FRENCH POLITICS

What now for France’s public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Questions remain over the future of France’s public service broadcasters after bill abolishing annual €138 licence fee leaves future funding plans for the broadcasters vague.

What now for France's public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

Households in France will no longer have to pay for an annual TV licence after parliament approved scrapping the annual €138 per household charge, meaning that this November the usual tax bill will simply not arrive.

The measure is part of a €65 billion package of financial aid to help people cope with the spiralling cost of living.

Revealed: What will you get from the cost-of-living package?

But abolishing the TV licence was not without its critics, while questions remain over the future funding of France’s public service broadcasters.

The €138 annual fee has been used to finance the TV and radio channels in the public sector.

It raises €3.7 billion a year – 65 percent of which is allocated to France Télévisions, 15.9 percent to Radio France, 7.5 percent to Arte, 7 percent to France Médias Monde, 2.4 percent to audiovisual archive agency INA and 2.1 percent to TV5 Monde, a Senate report revealed.

TV licence funding currently supplies about half of the total turnover of France Télévisions, while the rest comes from advertising.

Proposing the licence fee cut, president Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to define a budget “with multi-year visibility”, with fixed financing amounts. But, no long-term concrete plans are currently in place.

The government has said there is no question of public service broadcasters losing money, insisting it will replace the licence fee “euro for euro” with public subsidies financed by VAT. 

This model, however, is guaranteed only to the end of 2024 – after which the government will have to present different financing strategies to Parliament.

Despite the bill passing, Senators lined-up to criticise the absence of a concrete long-term funding strategy.

Les Républicains’ Jean-Raymond Hugonet said the plans were being pushed through too quickly for populist reasons and argued it was a change that should have come with a definitive public broadcasting strategy. 

Socialist senator David Assouline said Malak had “hailed the glory” of French public broadcasting but was “creating the conditions to weaken it”.

Assouline has long been a critic of the plan. “From the moment there is no more dedicated funding and we have to draw from the general state budget, we will end up being told that it all costs too much and that we have to cut expenses, close a channel, or even, as we already hear sometimes, privatise,” he told a demonstration against the plans in July.

Concerned staff at France Télévisions and Radio France went on strike at the end of June in protest at the changes, saying that getting rid of the fee amounted to a “threat” to the independence of the channels in question. 

Unions and cultural experts have expressed concern about the possibility that broadcasters’ independence would be eroded if financing was at the whim of the government of the time. Bruno Patino, the head of Arte France, has told AFP that he feared for his channel’s future if the funding model changed.

Another critic, cultural economist Françoise Benhamou told Le Monde: “The disadvantage of budgeting is that we are much less protected from the vagaries of politics, since the latter decides on the budget.”

And LFI MP and journalist Clémentine Autain said in July: “This is a highly political and dangerous measure. Democracy needs a strong public audiovisual service, with a fair financing system that guarantees independence.”

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