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Americans say Germany unilaterally changed interpretation of license rule

German police officer David Giesler directs a motorist to a parking lot off of Mannheimerstrasse in Kaiserslautern, Germany, for inspection at a random traffic checkpoint on Jan. 28, 2014.

JOSHUA L. DEMOTTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 4, 2015

German authorities say American drivers assigned to or working for the U.S. military in Germany need to maintain a valid stateside license in addition to a current U.S. Army Europe certificate of license to legally drive on public roads. In the past, having an expired license was not a problem as long as the person also had a USAREUR license.

According to USAREUR officials, Germany unilaterally changed its interpretation of the article in the 1998 German Supplementary Agreement to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement setting the rules for foreign forces driving in Germany.

USAREUR disputes this “unilateral” interpretation and has raised the issue to the highest diplomatic levels in Germany for resolution. U.S. forces argue that “questions of international law are not decided unilaterally by one party to an international agreement, but through consultation between the parties,” a USAREUR spokeswoman said.

Rheinland-Pfalz, which has the largest military community outside the continental United States, with some 50,000 Americans in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, is the first state to enforce the new interpretation.

Before 2003, the German Transportation Ministry interpreted Article 9, paragraph 2 of the 1998 SOFA supplement as allowing a person in Germany under the SOFA to drive with an expired stateside license and a USAREUR license. German authorities say that in 2003, Germany changed its interpretation so that only a valid stateside license would be accepted in conjunction with the USAREUR license. It is not clear whether the 2003 decision to reinterpret SOFA was ever communicated to the German states or U.S. authorities.

In 2013, officials from the Transportation Ministry and most of Germany’s states agreed with the new interpretation. German officials say that the Foreign Ministry informed the U.S. military of that decision in spring 2013, but neither USAREUR nor the U.S. Embassy has confirmed receipt of such a memo.

news@stripes.com

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