Exactly one year ago, the toll on cars failed miserably at the european court of justice – and has now cost the federal government 76.7 million euros.
This sum, which has been accrued since 2014, was communicated by the transport ministry to the german press agency on request. At the end of last year, expenditures of around 72 million euros were last mentioned. According to earlier reports, they were used to pay for consultants, expert opinions and personnel, among other things. On the anniversary of the halt to the former CSU prestige project, the opposition again attacked minister andreas scheuer (CSU), and the investigative committee questioned further witnesses.
The EU’s top judges had rejected the car toll, which had already been legally sealed, on 18 march. Stopped in june 2019 because it discriminates against drivers from abroad. The controversial compensation mechanism for inlanders was thus overturned – only they were to be fully relieved of toll payments via a lower vehicle tax. That should implement the condition in the black-red coalition agreement of 2013 that no inlander should be charged extra. The toll on passenger cars was actually introduced on 1 january 2009. The campaign was supposed to start in october of this year.
Transportation minister scheuer has been under intense pressure since the toll ruling a year ago. He had concluded the contracts for the control and collection of the toll at the end of 2018, before there was legal certainty. The operators, who were actually supposed to take over, are now demanding compensation of 560 million euros after the federal government cancelled the contracts immediately after the ruling. Scheuer rejects all claims by the companies. Arbitration proceedings have now begun with the operators kapsch and CTS eventim. The federal government, for its part, wants to enforce contractual penalties for poor performance.
The opposition accuses scheuer, among other things, of taking unnecessary risks. In the bundestag, a committee of inquiry has been scrutinizing the events since december. Ex-transport minister peter ramsauer (CSU) and ex-CSU leader horst seehofer have already been on hand to answer questions. Scheuer is also to be questioned – but that could take until the beginning of next year.
On the anniversary of the toll ruling on thursday, the committee focused on the awarding of the toll contracts to kapsch and eventim; witnesses from the ministry of transportation were questioned. There are accusations that scheuer and his officials may have violated public procurement law or, in any case, did not make sufficient efforts to achieve the best result for the federal government and thus the taxpayers. In the meantime, SPD chairwoman kirsten luhmann vented her anger in the meeting: it was a "pattern" that witnesses repeatedly answered critical questions by saying they were not competent.
According to the chairman of the committee, udo schiefner (SPD), the committee has so far questioned 21 witnesses and six experts, and the taking of evidence has taken exactly 58 hours and 12 minutes. The deputies and their staff had to sift through 2750 files with a total of 820,000 sheets of evidence, plus 15,000 mails in digital form.
Schiefner had warned before the start of the committee’s work that this must not become a "political show stage. Now his interim conclusion is positive: so far, it has been "amazingly successful," he said. It is concentrated and there are only a few "show appearances". It is still too early to assess the personal and political responsibilities involved.
The opposition, of course, sees things differently. FDP transport expert oliver luksic criticized: "one year after the failure of the foreigner toll, the gross number of serious mistakes is becoming increasingly clear – and the air for the minister is getting darker."Grunen vice faction leader oliver krischer said: "for a long time now, it’s not just the toll that’s a scandal, but also the fact that andreas scheuer is still in office." There had been enough warnings that the toll would be allowed to fail in court. Left-wing transport politician jorg cezanne said that, based on the evidence so far, it was indisputable that the ministry had broken procurement and budgetary law when awarding toll contracts.
Scheuer has strongly denied the accusations several times. "The federal government wants the process to be completed quickly, cost-effectively and effectively," its ministry explained. Information on the costs – also for a law firm representing the federal government – could not yet be given. The federal government achieved a small success in the proceedings. According to the ministry, the arbitration court ruled it inadmissible that the operators had already calculated the value of the specially founded toll joint venture.