Tyrolese choke on truck trade for Europe

In her second report, Sarah Helm finds Austrians paying a high price for monetary union

Steinach -High above the Austrian alps, there are lorries in the sky. Alpfen Appel, a 40-tonner, is passing through a mountain cloud. A solid line of trucks snakes over the Tyrolese village of Steinach every day, spanning a dramatic bridge, on the edge of the Brenner Pass.

"There are more and more each year," said Hubert Rauch, the mayor, who points to where trees are dying of pollution. He realises the traffic will be worse when the euro comes. As trade increased, spurred by the single market and open frontiers, the volume of goods passing through the Brenner Pass reached 30 million tons. When currency barriers fall, traffic is expected to double by 2020.

Not only is this shattering the peace and ecology, it is also shattering Austrian support for the euro and the EU. Its new Austrian "citizens" see that the leaders pushing through the single currency have no intention of paying for improved transit networks or enforcing environmental protection.

Recently Neil Kinnock, the EU transport commissioner, saw the Brenner problem, from a helicopter. But his proposals for a pounds 3.5bn rail tunnel have been shelved, because no country wants to pay, particularly when member-states are cutting back to meet the Maastricht criteria for the single currency.

At Steinach, all the contradictions of Europe's drive for political and monetary union are writ large. Increased trade has benefited the Austrian Tyrol, which depends heavily on links with Bavaria and northern Italy. There is a de facto common currency, as traders take lire, shillings or marks. The Austrian and Italian Tyrolese regions recently banded together as a "European region".

Innsbruck banks will lose 2,000 jobs when exchange-rate transactions end but they support the euro overall. Mr Rauch admits he went shopping in Italy when the lira was cheap but he also welcomed news that Italy is rejoining the exchange rate mechanism. A stronger lira may stop his trips but it should also stop German tourists by-passing Austrian resorts like his for Italian ones.

The merits of a barrier-free Europe, are, however, countered by the attractions of protectionism in Austria. When 66 per cent of people voted "yes" to Europe in the 1994 referendum, many said they did so because they felt they had no choice but to join after years of living shoulder- to-shoulder with the former Soviet bloc. Now they doubt the benefits as Vienna imposes "Euro taxes" to meet the Maastricht criteria.

In the Tyrol, the traffic problem makes people reappraise the value of economic and physical barriers. Switzerlandbarred lorries over 28 tons, which means the juggernauts are funnelled through Austria. When Austria decided to raise the toll on lorries through the Brenner Pass, the European Commission launched proceedings against it for breaching single-market rules. "People are making the connection between the traffic problem and Europe," said Fritz Staudigl, an official in Innsbruck. "They see goods being carried for miles ...And they are asking: `What's the point? Why should we suffer so Swedes can have Italian grapes in winter?' "

The Tyrolese also question European agricultural policies. They want to know why German over-production of meat and milk should be forcing such large Bavarian exports to Italy. There is also anxiety about illegal immigration. Three hundred customs officers from the Brenner area have lost their jobs since EU membership. Soon Austria is to join the Schengen agreement, which means ending all passport checks at its EU frontiers. At the Brenner, according to rumours in Steinach, 20 illegal immigrants are stopped a day.

Austria's fears about the euro are most commonly voiced in the simplest ways. People are scared of losing their strong currency. "People ...remember how they lost their savings during the post-war hyper-inflations," said Mr Staudigl. "Older people still talk of how they sold a house and found they could only buy a loaf of bread."

Tomorrow: Northern Italy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz