Belgium massively sponsors diesel trucks from abroad
Belgium pays 451 million euro per year to trucking companies that fill up with diesel at Belgian petrol stations. Of this, 165 million euro is paid to foreign companies, which partly cancels out the income from the kilometre charge for freight transport.
Or how the idea behind the levy – discouraging polluting transport and make them pay compensation and make alternatives more attractive – is again largely lost.
Truckers, taxi and bus drivers can get a refund of the excise duties on diesel in Belgium. Thanks to this system, many Dutch transport companies, for example, come to Belgium for refueling. This discount is now just under 25 euro cent per litre, about one fifth of the price at the pump. The reduced rate was introduced in 2004 as a support measure for the logistics sector.
600 million euro
In recent years, however, costs have soared. Government subsidies rose from 184 million euro in 2014 to 451 million euro in 2018. Moreover, they will increase further this year to 600 million euro. This is shown by figures that MP Kristof Calvo (Groen) requested from Finance Minister, Alexander De Croo (Open Vld).
Foreigners well informed
Striking is that 45% of the applicants do not come from Belgium. Last year, 5.284 foreigners requested a refund, amounting to 165 million euro in Belgian subsidies. The gap between the number of Belgians and non-Belgians who receive a discount is narrowing every year.
“Foreigners are getting better informed”, says Frederic Keymeulen of Transport and Logistics Flanders (TLV). “Anyone in the EU can apply for a discount. You only have to know that it exists.”
No subsidy for petrol
Europe only allows a subsidy for diesel, and not for the less polluting petrol. After all, the freight sector is driving almost exclusively on diesel. Because of this international success, the competitive advantage for Belgians is also melting away.
“For us, this still makes the difference between keeping our heads above water or going under in international competition”, says Keymeulen.
Treasury first, then climate
The international success also undermines the impact of the kilometre tax for trucks, introduced in 2016 to make foreigners pay for the damage they cause on Belgian roads. Last year, this levy raised 713 million euro, 380 million of which was due to foreigners.
In other words, almost half of the foreign income from the kilometre tax flows back abroad. According to Groen, the system needs to be changed, but the FPS Finance states that it also generates money for the Belgian economy. It may be better to abolish the system for the climate, but not for the treasury.
Stakeholders queue up
Bart Eeckhout, one of the editors-in-chief of newspaper De Morgen, thinks that the bickering with the mileage tax and the excise duty refund is a striking illustration of why it is so difficult to pursue a clear, effective policy on climate issues.
Everyone is in favour of a livable climate and a cleaner environment, he writes, but when measures are taken, stakeholders or interested parties queue up to get compensation. Afterwards nothing really changes.
This attitude does not change, not even now that climate care is becoming more acute. New Dutch government research even shows that now that the climate issue is becoming more urgent, the scepticism among citizens is growing.
In other words: now that people feel that climate policy can also become difficult, they prefer to ignore climate problems. It will take wise politicians to find the right path between what is necessary and what is possible to turn the tanker of society, he concludes.