Austrian pollution measures clash with free movement laws

Plans to ban lorries from using some of Austria's roads in an effort to improve air quality have been called into question by the European Commission, which claims they may be in breech of rules covering the free movement of trade goods.

The regional government in Tyrol has put forward a raft of measures to improve air quality and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, in an area where the mountainous local geography can make the dispersal of polluting gases difficult.

But whilst it has welcomed the aims of a ban on heavy goods vehicles on certain stretches of road, the EC has questioned the legality of such a move.

The Commission claims that banning freight vehicles from a stretch of motorway near the German border would ‘hinder the free movement of goods in a manner which would be out of proportion with the objective sought’.

It would at this stage be logistically impossible, it argues, to move the goods onto Austria’s rail network instead.

“The Commission is aware of the difficult situation alpine countries, particularly Austria, face when it comes to environmental and health effects of traffic”, said Jacques Barrot, Vice-president of the European Commission in charge of transport.

“We welcome Austria’s efforts to reach the Community’s air quality targets and wish to cooperate on projects that offer a real solution to traffic-related problems, such as the Brenner base tunnel in the long term and certain traffic-related measures in the short term. However, we cannot endorse the introduction of disproportionate measures with limited effect on air quality”.

Other measures put forward by Tyrol to address the pollution problem include lower speed limits for private cars and a ban on older, more polluting lorries similar to those proposed for London’s planned Low Emission Zone.

Sam Bond

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