Tagged: transport

The Court’s judgement in C-591/17 (Austria v Germany), or why the German light-vehicle vignette system is discriminatory

By Niels Kirst 

The recent judgement of the European Court of Justice in C-591/17 Austria v Germany was a Member State dispute about the enactment of a motorway charge in Germany. The Court of Justice of the European Union (hereinafter: CJEU) addressed one of the core concepts of the European legal order – the non-discrimination principle enshrined in Article 18 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union (hereinafter: TFEU). Questions had to be answered: (1) Can the cumulative introduction of a vignette system and a vehicle-tax relief amount to an indirect discrimination? (2) Should political considerations be taken into account by the Court? (3) Is Article 259 TFEU a suitable tool to solve Member State disputes?

The case is particularly interesting due to the use of Article 259 TFEU, which Austria invoked to bring Germany before the CJEU. Article 259 TFEU is rarely used due to its blaming character of the alleged rule-breaker. Many Member States would prefer that the European Commission (hereinafter: EC), as guardian of the treaties, leads the investigations into an alleged breach of EU law by a Member States. However, Article 259 TFEU can be seen as a last resort measure by a Member State, if the Member State sees its interests or the interest of its citizens jeopardized.[1]

In the case at hand, Austria brought the measure before the CJEU since many Austrians use the German highways due to proximity and transnational road travels through Germany. Austria based its claim on two characteristics. First, (i) the new motorway charge would be payable by all users of the motorway network in Germany and second (AG opinion, para. 5); (ii) owners of vehicles registered in Germany are granted a tax relief equal to the amount of the motorway charge (AG opinion, para. 5). Austria argued that the combination of these two measure factually amounts to an indirect discrimination of EU citizens when they use German highways.

This commentary presents the relevant political backgrounds leading up to this case, discusses the Court’s judgement and reflects upon the wider implications of Case C-591/17 for the development of an EU-wide vignette system for light vehicles, the use of Article 259 TFEU and the questions of political accords between the EC and a Member State. Continue reading

Elite Taxi and Uber France : do Member States have free rein to prohibit and criminalise ridesharing activities?

By Pieter van Cleynenbreugel

Long gone are the days when a taxi was the only means of private transport in return for payment to be obtained in our cities. The ridesharing smartphone application provider Uber has shaken up the way in which people book, offer and conceive private rides. One of the most far-reaching and therefore controversial Uber applications is UberPOP. That application enables non-professional individuals (in contrast with UberX, which relies on professional – and often licensed – drivers) to act as remunerated drivers, transporting other private individuals from point A to point B. As UberPOP drivers generally are non-professional drivers making ancillary revenue out of their ridesharing activities, they do not have a taxi or other transport license and are not employed by Uber. That fact has encouraged regulators strictly to limit or even to prohibit UberPOP activities for safety and consumer protection reasons.

A prohibition thus issued in Barcelona gave rise to a first ruling by the Court of Justice on the matter in the Elite Taxi judgment (C-434/15) rendered last December 2017. In some Member States, such as France, the offering of unlicensed transportation activities has even been subject to criminal law sanctions, which led to the Uber France judgment (C-320/16) rendered on 10 April 2018. In both judgments, Uber argued that the national regulations in place were incompatible with EU law and more particularly with the provisions of the e-commerce (Directive 2000/31) and services (Directive 2006/123) Directives. The Court flatly ruled out that possibility, considering Uber to offer services in the field of transport not actually governed by EU secondary legislation. Continue reading