Published on Monday, September 11, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian (UK)
'Green' Fuel Taxes Target Of Oil Blockades
French oil blockades end but protests spread
by Jon Henley in Paris and Tony Paterson in Berlin
Road hauliers and farmers yesterday lifted the last of their blockades from outside France's oil refineries and fuel depots, ending a week-long protest that had brought large parts of the country to a standstill.
But while French fuel tankers, exempted from a customary weekend ban, raced to resupply the 85% of France's petrol stations that had run dry, German truckers were moving to fill the breach, threatening nationwide motorway and road blockades yesterday after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's coalition rejected calls for the abolition of its controversial ecological fuel tax.
Germany's lorry drivers began disrupting traffic at the weekend.
On Saturday 120 lorries sealed off the north German town of Hildesheim for several hours.
On Friday 40 truck drivers drove into the town of Uelzen in the same region and blocked off the centre during a visit by German transport minister Reinhard Klimmt.
Even in France where the dispute was winding down, oil companies warned it would be several days before the situation returned to normal.
The French interior ministry said the final seven blockades, manned by militant farmers and road hauliers who were still unhappy with the 15% fuel tax cut they had wrested from the government, had been dismantled by midday.
Motorists immediately besieged the restocked stations, forming bumper-to-bumper queues and waiting as long as three hours to be served.
The hauliers, who wanted a 20% cut in state diesel taxes to compensate the soaring price of crude oil, reluctantly accepted the government's offer after the prime minister, Lionel Jospin, under pressure from his Green party coalition partners, told them it was final.
Negotiators from the second biggest French hauliers' group, Unostra, followed those from its sister organisation FNTR on Saturday in recommending its members lift the 160 blockades around the country.
The farmers union FNSEU, which won a 30% reduction in state fuel taxes, quickly followed suit.
The German lorry drivers have demanded reductions in VAT on fuel, car tax and ecological fuel tax to compensate for the rise in fuel prices.
However, German finance minister Hans Eichel ruled out scrapping the ecology tax, one of the chief policy initiatives of Chancellor Schroeder's coalition of Social Democrats and Greens introduced last year.
The risk of protests also appeared to be growing elsewhere in Europe. Italian fishermen occupied quays around the country and warned the government they would blockade ports if it refused to reduce duties on the fuel they use.
In Belgium, several thousand hauliers, taxi drivers and tour bus operators took to the streets of Brussels demanding lower fuel prices.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000