Challenge to Brussels’ low-emission zone could mean fines paid back

Summary

A women in Wallonia has filed a complaint against Brussels’ low-emission zone, which, if successful, could mean that all the fines collected have to be paid back

Lorries exempt

The Brussels-Capital Region might have to pay back all the fines it has collected for violations of the low-emission zone (Lez). If the Council of State rules in favour of a case brought against the zone, all the fines will be declared null and void.

The auditor of the Council of State, who offers advice on cases brought before Belgium’s highest court, has advised that the council rule in favour of the complainant, a resident of Genval in Wallonia, who says that the capital’s Lez law is discriminatory.

The resident’s complaint concerns the stipulation that lorries heavier than 3.5 tons do not have to conform to Lez regulations. She filed suit because, while she cannot enter Brussels with her car because it has a Euronorm 3 diesel engine, large trucks can. Some of them, she reasons, must be as polluting as her car, or more so.

€3.6 million in fines

The region has argued that trucks already have to pay road taxes based on kilometres driven and that those are already higher for the more polluting vehicles. But the auditor to the Council of State disagrees, saying that Lez regulations are contrary to the constitutional principle of equality and non-discrimination. The entire Lez regulation should be abolished, the auditor said, and re-instated with changes to the lorry exemption.

That would mean that all those fines handed out for breaches to the low-emission zone in Brussels so far – all €3.6 million worth of them – would have to be paid back.

According to VUB financial law professor Michel Maus, however, the Council of State could choose to abolish just the part of the law that pertains to lorries and not the entire legislation altogether. “If the entire regulation is annulled, it’s like it never existed, and, in principle, all the fines have to be paid back,” he told Bruzz. “If only the exemption for trucks is repealed, then it’s like that exemption had never existed. That means that all those lorries that did not comply with Lez regulations should have been fined. But doing that after the fact is burdensome.”

The Council of State is not expected to rule on the issue for a few weeks. It is not required to follow the advice of the auditor, but it does in a majority of cases.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA