15 September 2000

Fuel tax demos across Europe

By Philip Clarke

demonstrations against fuel tax spread throughout Europe this week as farmers and truckers attempted to emulate the success of their French counterparts in winning concessions from their governments.

The French dispute ended last weekend when the authorities agreed to a 15% cut in fuel duties. Protesters had blocked roads and ports following a succession of rises that had seen the price of red diesel soar to 3.3F/litre (35p/litre).

Just as in the UK, farmers and hauliers in other EU states have launched protests.

German farmers took to the streets of Munich on Wednesday and Hanover on Thursday, joining lorries and taxis in a slow-moving procession. "We are not allowed to make blockades in Germany, so we must respect that," said Michael Lohse of the main farming union, the DBV. "This is not France."

Mr Lohse said farmers were dismayed at having to pay 0.57DM/litre (18p/litre) in tax for diesel when the French had just had their duty cut from 0.16DM/litre (5p/litre) to an equivalent 0.11DM/litre (3p/litre). "We must have just one fuel duty for the whole of Europe," he added.

German farmers pay 1.58DM/litre (49p/litre) for diesel, compared with 1.70DM/litre (53p/litre) for motorists, including a special environmental tax of 0.06DM/litre.

Belgian farmers were expected to take to the streets yesterday, after three days in which lorry drivers brought Brussels to a standstill with their demand for a cut in the countrys 11.7F (19p/litre) tax on diesel.

"So far we have resisted getting involved, though our members are very sympathetic," said a Belgian farmers union spokesman on Wednesday.

Action is also planned in Spain. Meetings between the main farmers union and the authorities failed to produce any cuts in fuel duties, leading to threats of farmer demonstrations next week. Farm diesel prices in Spain have doubled in the past 18 months, to over 80psts/litre (30p/litre). Agriculture minister Miguel Canete said he was considering cutting VAT, but this is unlikely to satisfy the unions.

In Holland, lorry drivers set up road blocks on 15 major roads on Tuesday, but scaled down their action on Wednesday pending further talks with the government.

Farmers were reluctant to join in, however. "We do not have a big problem with red diesel and we are worried about damaging our image," said a spokesman for the Dutch farmers union. &#42