Economic woes are making green measures a harder sell
A panel of Euro MPs has voted to introduce extra road charges to curb congestion and pollution from lorries.
The measures - not yet adopted by EU ministers and the full European Parliament - would beef up an existing "Eurovignette" directive.
EU states would be free to impose levies on lorries using major roads. The current rules only apply to those on motorways that cross borders.
But the scheme would not oblige states to introduce congestion charges.
States might choose to introduce separate congestion charges like the one in London, but the new rules would target traffic on major national and international highways rather than urban areas.
The European Commission, which drafted the revised directive, says the new charges would mean an extra 3% cost for road users.
The parliament's transport committee decided there would be a sliding scale of charges, depending on how eco-friendly lorries are and the distance travelled.
Unlike the London congestion charge, the scheme would not be based on a fixed fee per vehicle linked to certain hours of the day.
MEPs believe electronic tolling systems can levy the appropriate charges.
Under the new rules, charges would apply to lorries on all roads "which customarily carry a significant volume of international goods transport".
Currently only lorries above 12 tonnes on international motorways are charged, but from 2012 the charges would be extended to 3.5-tonne vehicles.
The full parliament is expected to vote on the measures on 1 March.
MEPs were united in demanding "earmarking" of the revenues, to ensure that member states invest in improving the environmental standards of vehicles and develop alternative transport infrastructure.
The plan for "earmarking" is expected to meet opposition from EU finance ministers, as governments prefer to control their own budget allocations.
The EPP-ED group opposed selective congestion charges for lorries, citing the difficult economic conditions and arguing that all road users were responsible for congestion.
So the compromise plan on congestion applies to all vehicles and requires member states to produce a cost/benefit analysis and an action plan before imposing a charge.
UK Independence Party transport spokesman Mike Nattrass said the new legislation "would be a catastrophe for the HGV sector and the British economy".
The Belgian Socialist MEP steering the revised directive through parliament, Said El Khadraoui, said road transport had to be made more sustainable.
The package would "allow EU governments to calculate costs related to noise, air pollution and congestion caused by lorries, and then levy the relevant charge," he said.
"The revenues... are to be used to mitigate the negative environmental effects of lorries. This should lead to a significant reduction of noise, air pollution and congestion."