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French fishermen braced for more action this week

Robert Arnoux

Cars queuing in front of a petrol station in La Rochelle last week.  (Click to view larger version...)
Cars queuing in front of a petrol station in La Rochelle last week.
Filling the car's tank is one of those menial chores which do not require much planning or thinking. Except when fishermen, faced with soaring fuel prices, decide to blockade the oil refineries in the Marseilles area, where 30 % of the country's total refining capacity is situated, to put pressure on the government. (Taxes amount to 50 to 60% of the price at the pump.)

As a consequence, starting last Wednesday afternoon, shortages - and a bit of paranoia - led to long queues in front of the service stations until the stations themselves ran dry. In some places, the situation got so tense that the authorities had to prohibit the filling of jerrycans.

Despite the government's decision to release a EUR 110 million "emergency package", fishermen held on, and on Thursday noon, riot police had to be sent to "liberate" the refineries. Friday morning, it was back to square one: refineries had been "retaken" and would remain "occupied" until the government guaranteed that fishermen would pay their diesel fuel 0,40 € per litre instead of 0,70.

Michel Barnier, the French Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, agreed to the fishermen's demand — a decision which, in Brussels' view, amounts to "a subsidy in disguise". On Monday things were back to normal. But the fishermen's "base", now in disagreement with their leadership, were bracing for "new actions" in the course of the week.


return to Newsline #33