Brenner Transit Dispute: Austria and Italy Go to European Court

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: May 16, 2024; 19:02 ♦ (Vindobona)

The long-running dispute over the anti-transit measures on the Brenner route between Austria and Italy continues to escalate: the European Commission has cleared the way for Italy to take Austria to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Italy's Transport Minister Matteo Salvini took action against Austria. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / Kasa Fue / CC BY-SA 4.0 (

In a recently published statement, the Commission expressed clear criticism of several Tyrolean measures aimed at restricting the free movement of goods. Italy is now planning to take the case to the ECJ to have these restrictions lifted. The dispute over the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria has been going on for some time, as reported.

In its opinion, the European Commission agreed with several of Italy's points of criticism. Specifically, it criticized the night driving ban, the sectoral driving ban for certain goods, the winter driving ban on Saturdays, and the truck block clearance in Tyrol. These measures restricted the free movement of goods by Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Although the Commission acknowledged Austria's environmental arguments, it criticized the fact that the measures were not coherent and could affect foreign companies more than Austrian ones.

Italy reacts as expected

Italy's Transport Minister Matteo Salvini (Lega) expressed his satisfaction with the Commission's support, as reported by "DiePresse". "This decision confirms that the Austrian driving bans on the Brenner corridor violate the free movement of goods," said Salvini. He announced that Italy would take the case to the ECJ to "re-establish a favorable legal framework for businesses and protect the principle of freedom in the European Union".

Austria remains "calm"

As expected, Austria reacted calmly to the announcement of the lawsuit. Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and European Affairs Minister Karoline Edtstadler (both ÖVP) emphasized in a joint statement that the protective measures for the population in Tyrol were necessary, proportionate, and in line with EU law. "The argument of the free movement of goods cannot carry more weight than the burden on the health of the population and the environment in Tyrol," explained Edtstadler. Furthermore, these ministers explained in the statement, "A lawsuit before the ECJ will neither widen the Brenner Pass nor bring even one truck onto the rails. We need cooperation instead of confrontation to prevent a court battle."

Tyrol's Governor Anton Mattle (ÖVP) and Transport and Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) also defended the measures, as reported by "DiePresse". Mattle expressed his surprise at the criticism from the EU Commission but emphasized that Tyrol was still willing to talk. "Our measures are necessary and justified. We will defend them in all instances," said Mattle. Gewessler added: "People's health and lives are not negotiable for us. We stand together on the side of the Tyrolean population and will do everything we can to consistently protect them."

Bavaria supports Italy's stance

Bavaria supports Italy's stance and is calling for a quick solution, as reported by "Bayrischer Rundfunk". Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder (CSU) was pleased with the EU Commission's decision and emphasized: "The block clearance is damaging our economy and blocking one of our main traffic arteries in Europe." Bavaria's Transport Minister Christian Bernreiter (CSU) called for a digital slot system to improve traffic management. "Traffic problems must not simply be passed on to Bavaria," explained Bernreiter.

The future of anti-transit measures uncertain

The Austrian government, meanwhile, remains optimistic and is relying on cooperation. "A lawsuit before the ECJ will neither widen the Brenner Pass nor bring even one truck onto the rails," explained Edtstadler. She emphasized the need for a joint European approach to protect the population and the environment.

European law expert Walter Obwexer, who works at the University of Innsbruck and often advises the state of Tyrol on legal matters, believes it is likely that Austria could lose before the ECJ, as reported by "Salzburger Nachrichten". "If only two percent of the measures do not comply with EU law, Austria will lose the case," says Obwexer. However, he remains optimistic that the essential traffic-restricting measures will remain in place and only adjustments may be necessary.

Agreement or protracted legal dispute?

The dispute once again highlights the tensions between economic interests and environmental and health aspects in the European single market. The upcoming proceedings before the ECJ could be groundbreaking for the future design of transit regulations in the EU. While Italy and Bavaria are pushing for a relaxation of the restrictions, Austria remains steadfast in its efforts to protect the health of its citizens. A long-term and sensible solution for the "long-suffering population" in Tyrol can only be found through talks, emphasized Edtstadler. Austria will remain in dialog with Italy and Brussels.

European Commission

Austrian MFA