June 23. 2024. 7:57

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Brenner Pass dispute: A microcosm of the struggle to connect Europe


As national governments managed to close a deal on truck emission limits in Brussels last week, a major trucking dispute was re-erupting in the Brenner pass that connects Italy and Austria.

In response to a complaint from Italy, the European Commission found that Austria’s driving bans in the Tyrol region breached EU law. The dispute has no end in sight, as Austria is not backing down.

Citing pollution, congestion, and noise impacts on local residents, in 2011, Austria’s Tyrol region slapped restrictions on trucks transiting through the Brenner Pass. Italy reacted furiously – the pass is a crucial channel for Italian exports to the large and rich markets of northern Europe – and kicked off formal legal challenge earlier this year.

Unsurprisingly the road haulage sector supported Italy’s move, arguing that Austria’s bans are “major impediments to trade”.

The European Commission found that some of Austria’s measures, such as the night driving ban or the rationing of heavy-duty vehicles entering the motorway, go against the free movement of goods. The Commission gave Italy the green light to take its complaint to the European Court of Justice.

The Austrian government reacted strongly against the Commission’s finding, arguing that the bans are non-negotiable emergency measures, necessary to protect people’s lives and health.

In the long term, however, there may be a technical solution that works for everyone.

Both countries are developing the Brenner Base Tunnel, which will connect them by rail and will therefore offer a less congested and polluting alternative to motorway traffic. But it will only be ready in 2032.

Much has been made recently of the missing transport links between European countries. Often the emphasis is put on technical issues – be it missing physical infrastructure or non-compatible systems and equipment.

But the Brenner Pass dispute reminds us that environmental, quality-of-life, and national identify concerns can be just as much impediment to deeper connections between European countries and regions.

The grand mission to connect Europe is at heart a political one. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the barriers to its completion will ultimately be just as political.


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