The landscape may not appear to be different from that immortalised by Vermeer, but the Austrian countryside is not as idyllic as it looks. Peter Wilsher says that this Tyrolean serenity is being spoiled by the major traffic routes thundering through its heart.
The scene: somewhere in rural Europe. The landscape is serene, idyllic, barely changed since the Middle Ages. The distant church tower, the trees, the drowsy cows look little different from those immortalised by Corot or Vermeer. But then turn up the sound and attempt to breathe the air. The likelihood is that somewhere within two kilometres, and probably closer, there is a trunk road, if not a motorway, throbbing through the night and day with the noise of long-distance lorries, and the romantic haze over the meadows is due more to diesel emissions and unburnt hydrocarbons than to some romantic trick of the sunlight.
It is not hard to appreciate why a major threat to successful completion of the single market is the public's near universal detestation of the heavy goods vehicle. For months there was an impassioned piece of graffito, stretching across some 20 feet of brickwork at the top of London's Highgate Hill, which said simply "Castrate all HGV drivers". Translations would be readily available in all European Community languages.
The uncomfortable fact is that "unlimited, unrestricted freedom for goods to cross frontiers", which is one of the key 1992 objectives, is already creating a traffic explosion. The process which quadrupled the weight carried on most major continental highways during the 1970s and early 1980s accelerated after January 1 1988, when the Single Administrative Document (SAD) replaced the up to 70 separate pieces of paper that lorry drivers had previously been required to present every time that they went through a border post. It will quicken again in 1993, when all of the quota arrangements which restrict the activities of non-domestic hauliers are swept away, and even conservative forecasts predict a doubling before the end of the decade.
Most of those estimates have now been overtaken anyway. They take little or no account of the dramatic events in Eastern Europe, and recent travellers to south Germany will need no reminding of the Polish, Czech and Hungarian impact on an already overburdened autobahn system, and there is little prospect of that diminishing once those countries start seriously getting their economic act together. Even if the Gulf oil crisis turns out to be more than temporary, the effect will only be to slow the process down: there is virtually no chance, any longer, that it will be thrown into reverse.
Ironically, some of the worst effects are being felt in Austria, a country not yet even an EC member, and they are proving so socially disruptive that they may seriously damage the national consensus in favour of getting in.