LONDON – The European Commission is proposing that all 15 European Union member countries adopt a single rate of excise duty on commercial diesel fuel.

Present differences between the countries are so great they distort competition within the European motor and fuel markets, the EC says.

Under the plan, a central rate equivalent to about $350 per 1,000L (264 gallons). would be established from Jan. 1, with countries being allowed some scope for variation. The range then would gradually narrow, so that a fixed rate would be in place by 2010.

The plan also provides for a minimum rate of duty of approximately $360 per 1,000L on diesel and unleaded gasoline used by private motorists.

The EC’s proposal will not take effect until all the national governments have approved it in the EU's Council of Ministers. Some countries have expressed serious opposition to the plan. The U.K., for instance, imposes diesel duties twice as high as in some other countries.

So while the plan is welcome by U.K. truckers' organizations, it is strongly opposed by the government, which would have to cut duties by about 50% and lose billions of pounds in revenues.

The EC denies the U.K. will lose revenues, saying the duty cuts will raise demand for fuel.