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French government scrambles to contain ecotax revolt
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Nov 05, 2013


Taxing lorries in Europe
Paris (AFP) Nov 05, 2013 - France's Socialist government has bowed to public pressure by suspending plans for an environmental tax on trucks following fierce opposition from farmers and food sector workers across the country continues.

Several European countries have taken advantage of EU rules allowing them to implement "polluter pays" type fees:

- AUSTRIA: On January 1, 2004, a tax was introduced in the form of a motorway toll for vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes, large caravans and buses. The price varies according to the distance travelled, the type of vehicle and number of axles.

- BELGIUM: Heavy goods vehicles will be subjected to a tax from 2016, replacing the current "Euro sticker" system which only applies to lorries heavier than 12 tonnes.

- BRITAIN: The government is planning to introduce a tax on lorries weighing more than 12 tonnes from April 2014. The new tax is mainly aimed at making lorries pay for the wear-and-tear they cause to the road network.

- CZECH REPUBLIC: Imposes an ecotax on all vehicles, according to the level of pollution caused.

- DENMARK: Like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden, Denmark has a system of "Euro stickers" which oblige lorries heavier than 12 tonnes to pay to use its motorways.

- FINLAND: A tax based on greenhouse gas emissions is in force, which varies according to the weight of the vehicle.

- GERMANY: On January 1, 2005, a motorway toll was introduced for lorries, designed to make the road transport sector help finance motorways. The scope of the tax has since been enlarged to take into account emissions of greenhouse gases.

- POLAND: A tax on lorries weighing more than 3.5 tonnes has been in force since July 2011. The receipts go to maintain roads.

- SLOVAKIA: In the face of protests, Slovakia in January 2010 introduced a tax on lorries to finance road infrastructure.

- SWEDEN: Since 2006 all vehicles pay a carbon tax based on the level of pollution caused by the vehicle. Those which use biofuels or have "clean" engines get large tax reductions.

- SWITZERLAND: A tax on lorries came into force after a referendum in 1992, in a bid to combat transit by lorries from other European countries through the Alps. It is calculated according to the kilometres travelled, the tonnage and the type of lorry, according to its level of pollution.

Other European countries like Spain, Italy, Norway and Romania and the Baltic countries do not have similar road taxes.

The French government scrambled Tuesday to contain anger over a proposed environmental tax as protesters continued to destroy radars set up to help collect the levy, in a revolt that shows no sign of abating.

Protests over the new "ecotax" on trucks, which aims to encourage environmentally friendly commercial transport, kicked off in earnest last month in the northwestern region of Brittany and eventually forced the government to backtrack and suspend the levy.

Wearing red bonnets, the symbol of a 17th-century anti-tax campaign in Brittany, the protesters -- small business owners, fishermen and food industry workers -- marched in big, sometimes violent, rallies in the region, which has already been crushed by job cuts and would be hard hit by the new tax.

Some destroyed radars set up in advance along roads to screen passing vehicles and determine whether they need to pay the tax, which would apply to French and foreign vehicles carrying goods weighing over 3.5 tonnes.

Under pressure to rein in its state deficit, France's Socialist government has announced about 3 billion euros ($4.1 billion) in tax increases for next year, and protests in Brittany come on top of wider opposition to tax hikes.

The ecotax was actually adopted by the previous right-wing UMP government in 2009 but its implementation had repeatedly been put off.

And while the Socialist government suspended the levy last week over the unrest, protesters asking for the tax to be completely abandoned have continued to destroy radars, mostly in Brittany but in other parts of the country too.

On Tuesday, the transport ministry said 11 such radars had been vandalised since the beginning of the protest movement, as had four big overhead road structures equipped with cameras and radio receptors.

This equipment would identify trucks liable for the tax thanks to a GPS box installed inside the vehicles.

Controversy has also started to swirl around Ecomouv', the firm contracted by the previous government to collect the tax, amid "questions" over how the company was awarded the contract.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said the contract signed with the firm -- which is majority owned by Italian company Autostrade per l'Italia -- would have to be renegotiated.

"We can question the fact that the collection of a national tax was handed over to a supplier with foreign origins," he said.

And while protests have so far been concentrated in Brittany, there is concern that the unrest may spread to other parts of France.

Last week, market gardeners staged a rally in a region near Brittany to demand an end to the levy, and several ecotax radars have been destroyed in other parts of France.

burs-mbx/gd

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