Last week, the various Belgian transport federations expressed dissatisfaction with the Flemish government’s renewed Flemish Energy and Climate Plan, which once again provides for road pricing only for trucks.
Now Walloon MP François Desquesnes (Les Engagés) is also stirring in the debate on possibly introducing a kilometer charge for passenger cars. He does not want the Walloons to pay for “a new entry tax in the Brussels region”. His demand to introduce a highway vignette in Wallonia in exchange for SmartMove was rejected by Mobility Minister Philippe Henry (Ecolo).
‘Fill the Brussels treasure chest’
Smart Move, the smart kilometer charge the Brussels Region wants to introduce but which is frozen until the next legislature, continues to raise concerns in Wallonia. Not only has the Brussels ruling PS party been instructive for some time, but in the Walloon Parliament, MP François Desquesnes last week hit back at the statements of Brussels Budget Minister Sven Katz (Open Vld), who believes that SmartMove must succeed at all costs, regardless of the point of view and opposition of Wallonia and Flanders on the subject.
“It goes without saying, and we have already said it, that we, as Les Engagés, are unfavorable to this tax that would drain the Walloons to fill the Brussels treasure chest,” Desquesnes said.
Waiting for initiatives
Walloon Mobility Minister Philippe Henry replied that it has always been his wish “to strike the right balance between the Brussels Region’s legitimate desire to solve the congestion problems on its territory and the interests of our fellow citizens in a context marked by the crisis we are currently experiencing”.
Henry also added that the ball is in the Brussels camp. “Pending this operationalization, it is important to preserve the technological and fiscal know-how built up during the various exchanges at the level of consultative committees (Codeco). To make this possible, potential users are working on and testing the application at the Brussels level.”
Desquesnes described this response as “chèvre-choutiste”, meaning someone tries to please everyone or reconcile divergent options. “I expect the interests of the Walloon people to be defended and that we do not slip into a system in which the interests of Walloon commuters, who are sometimes forced to take their cars because of the lack of public transport services and the lack of access to soft mobility in Brussels, can be defended and not forced to pay a new tax to enter the Brussels Region.”
Desquesnes then asked Henry to “put the highway vignette project on the table in exchange for SmartMove to allow non-Walloon users to contribute to the Walloon highway network, as it already exists in Switzerland, Slovenia, or Austria.
Henry immediately swept the proposal aside. According to him, since adopting the new Eurovignette Directive in February 2022, EU Member States can no longer set tolls on a flat-rate basis. “Tolls will, therefore, have to be based in the future on the distance traveled and not on duration,” Henry replied.
“Moreover, the 2013 Fairway study showed that the cost of setting up such a system almost offset the revenue, with a low net result for Wallonia. The issue of introducing the vignette is not on the agenda at the government level.”
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