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Rethink bus fares, says Busuttil

Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil has called on the government to consider a rethink of the new structure of public transport fares, saying EU law did not appear to support differentiation between residents and tourists.

He said the European Court of Justice had already rejected similar arguments brought forward by other member states.

“The issue has already been clearly addressed by the ECJ on more than one occasion. I think it may be appropriate for the Maltese authorities to look into the matter again as different bus fares for tourists may well be illegal under EU law,” he said when contacted.

Dr Busuttil’s stand confirms comments from EU sources last week who said although prima facie the distinction being made by Maltese authorities was based on residence and not nationality – which is allowed under the EU treaties – in practice it would be very difficult for Malta to justify a different price structure for other EU citizens.

Under the public transport reform, which will be implemented next year, non-residents will pay more for the same ticket than residents who are in possession of a Maltese identity card.

The European Commission last week said it would be asking the Maltese authorities for more information about the new tariff structure. So far, it has not passed any judgment on it.

Dr Busuttil’s reasoning is based on a judgment handed down by the ECJ in January 2003, in a case instituted by the Commission against the Italian government in a situation very similar to Malta’s.

The case concerned preferential rates being offered to elderly Italian residents (not nationals) aged 60 to 65 years for admission into museums in Venice, Treviso and Padua. At the same time other EU citizens not resident in Italy were being charged extra.

The ECJ had ruled that discriminatory treatment over museum admission affecting foreign tourists who were EU citizens was prohibited because it breached the EU Treaty.

“Indirect discrimination based on residence which produced the same result as that imposed by nationality is also prohibited,” the court had held.

The Italian government had argued that since Italian residents paid taxes it was only fair they benefited from these subsidies, a similar argument being used now by the Maltese authorities to justify the differential price structure.

The ECJ had dismissed this argument saying there was no direct link between the taxes paid by residents and the preferential rates for museum admissions. This argument, it said, could apply if there was a link, for instance, between the taxation paid for pension or insurance schemes and the deductibility of the contributions.

Dr Busuttil said with this jurisprudence already in place it would be difficult for Malta to justify its position if eventually challenged.

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