Road Tolls Border Airports Fear German Road Fees Could Scare Away Foreign Passengers

A government proposal to require foreign drivers to pay fees to use all of Germany's roads – and not just the country's famed no-speed-limit autobahns – has airport officials in border regions crying foul.
Airports bordering neighboring countries may lose passenger traffic to their neighbors if Germany institutes road tolls, critics say.

A German proposal to charge foreigners a toll for using roads and highways is creating turbulence for the airports located close to the country's borders.

Airport managers fear a steep decline in passengers from other countries should Germany's federal government proceed with its plan to require an annual fee of €88 for a windshield sticker that would give non-Germans access to all of the country’s roadways. They argue the tolls will make their airports less attractive to foreign fliers.

The Weeze Airport in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, where almost 40 percent of all passengers come from the Netherlands, warns that the 1,000 jobs associated with the airport’s operation are “massively in danger.” In a letter to Alexander Dobrindt, federal transport minister, Weeze Airport managing director Ludger van Bebber said Dutch customers accounted for more than 50 percent before the introduction of German air passenger taxes.

The road toll would be another “one-sided, nationalistic, competition-distorting burden,” said Mr. van Bebber in the letter, of which Handelsblatt has a copy. He argued that the toll proposal should be dropped or that the government “provide border areas with the necessary exemption.”

Officials at the Cologne Bonn Airport also are highly critical of the road toll. Chairman Michael Garvens told Handelsblatt: “The car toll looks like a second air passenger tax. The cost in passengers would be massive, particularly for airports close to the border.”

Even Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, who like Mr. Dobrindt is a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party, has sounded the alarm for what the toll road proposal might do to the border regions of Germany, while Armin Laschet, deputy leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has called the plan “damaging to the merging of living and economic areas.” Mr. Laschet said the toll is tantamount to charging admission for foreigners to enter the country. The CSU is the CDU's Bavarian regional sister party.

Driving into resistance

With so much vocal resistance to Mr. Dobrindt’s proposal and with many questions still unanswered about how the plan would work, the federal government cancelled at the last minute a ministry-level discussion set for Tuesday, sources within the government told Handelsblatt.

The talks were to include representatives of the chancellor’s office, the foreign office and eight other ministries and were to address a number of legal and administrative issues in conjunction with drafting the proposed law. These included legal issues of taxes, fees and administrative issues, the legal framework of the infrastructure-related levies as a fee or a tax, and conformity to European Union law, according to a memo sent to those who were expected to attend.

The discussions have been postponed until early August.

There are “still a number of questions” that must be “constructively addressed,” said Sigmar Gabriel, economy minister and vice chancellor, who is leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Kirsten Lühmann, the deputy chairman of the German Civil Service Federation and the transportation expert in the SPD, is demanding that Mr. Dobrindt submit draft legislation “that reflects these doubts and takes them into consideration.”

The airport managers won’t be watching the skies. They’ll be watching what happens on the ground in Berlin.