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Fuel protests spread across Europe

Latest update : 2008-05-30

Soaring fuel prices triggered further protests in France and the Netherlands, as fishing fleets in Spain, Italy and Portugal also joined in the spreading fuel strikes. (Report: N.Rushworth)


Read an analysis of the oil crisis


The issue of rocketing oil prices is a “hot topic” and calls for a reaction: that is all European ministers in charge of competitiveness could say in the face of growing protests at €125-per-barrel Brent oil prices. Little impressed, angered fuel users are now calling for concrete measures from Brussels.


In Spain, the fishermen’s strike became “total” Friday morning, according to a representative of the Catalan fishermen. “This could have an effect not only in Spain, but also on the whole production chain across Europe”, said FRANCE 24’s Madrid correspondent Adeline Percept.


The same day, Portuguese and Italian fishermen joined the unlimited strike. Meanwhile in Bulgaria, around 150 lorries staged a demonstration on Sofia’s ring road, asking the government to “control speculative hikes in the price of diesel”.


In the Netherlands, roadside signs warn that “we are fed up, but our tanks are empty”. In Austria, the government announced that it would spend 60 million euros to reduce transportation costs.


In eastern France, 200 farmers have been blockading a petrol depot in Villette de Vienne to call for government aid. Farmers have also staged demonstrations in Brittany, in Lille (north) and in Toulouse and Montpellier (south).


French fishermen have now gone back to work, but they are still organising protests.


Reactions all over the world


European fishermen, farmers and hauliers are not the only victims of the crisis. In Indonesia, recent cuts in government subsidies resulted in a 30% hike in petrol prices, which in turn triggered angry demonstrations. On Sumatra island, furious students attempted to stop vice-president Yusuf Kalla’s cavalcade, while hundreds of students and fishermen blocked a motorway in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.


Indonesian lawyers have filed a collective lawsuit against President Yudhoyono “in the name of the people”, to obtain compensation for soaring petrol prices.


Taiwan and India have in turn cut their patrol subsidies, causing price surges at service stations in both countries.


Are speculators to blame?


Several governments have been trying to satisfy immediate demands by offering to boost supply or to reduce petrol taxes. France’s Minister for the Economy Christine Lagarde asked her G8 counterparts to come together and call on oil-producing countries to “increase production so as to ease tensions on the market”.


Opec replied that there was no need to increase oil production this year, though not every Opec member state agrees with this stance.


Indonesia, an oil producer that needs to import to satisfy its needs, said on Wednesday that it would pull out of the cartel in protest at soaring energy prices. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, announced that it would boost supply in June.


In the US, all eyes are on the markets. A barrel of oil there has seen its price skyrocket from $50 in early 2007 to more than $130 in May. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission has launched a probe into possible price-fixing on American oil markets.


In all directions


Local measures have multiplied to complement international efforts. French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that a cap be placed on VAT intake from petrol products. After a cool reception, the idea attracted interest from Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker, who said it was “well worth thinking about”.


After promising fishermen state aid, the French government is now trying to satisfy hauliers. Junior Minister for Transport Dominique Bussereau announced that legislation would “compel customers to pay for petrol surcharges”.


The haulier’s response was a swift one: “This is only marketing aimed at convincing the opinion that the government is dealing with the crisis and at hiding the true facts,” the European hauliers organization OTRE said.


The British government has also been moving in all directions. Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced his intention to boost oil production in the North Sea, while pushing for changes in energy consumption habits.


The government is planning an information campaign as well as measures to improve home insulation and encourage on-site energy production.


Date created : 2008-05-30