Speak Up Energy

Strikes and protests have spread across Europe amid growing anger at record-high oil prices, with leaders from the 27 EU countries at odds over the best response to the crisis.

Unhappy fishermen

After three weeks of work stoppages and blockades staged by fishermen in France, the fishing industry in Spain, Italy and Portugal joined in the protest against high oil prices. Indeed, the rapid rise in the cost of oil has pushed up the price of marine diesel by around 30% since the beginning of the year, meaning trawler owners are facing bankruptcy, according to fishing federations. They are demanding state subsidies to help them offset some of these costs. But the European Commission shattered any hopes of EU assistance on Friday (30 May), when it announced that it instead planned to reinforce fishing limitations in the coming year. Massive overfishing and declining fish stocks are stated as justification for cutting the level of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) by up to 25% next year. While Europe still counts roughly 450,000 fishermen, the Commission says “fisheries today make a far smaller contribution to the European economy and food supply than they did in the past,” adding that the fishing industry will only become “profitable and sustainable” if “bolder action” is taken. “Fuel subsidies, besides being illegal, would do absolutely nothing to deal with the underlying problems. They would serve only to perpetuate the problems of the sector and make the crash even greater when it comes,” said European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg. “Act now to restructure. False solutions are not the way forward,” he said, calling for a “smaller, more fuel-efficient fleet that is better matched to fishing possibilities”. His proposals will however first have to be approved by a majority of member states. But national governments look set to come under even more pressure from the fishing industry this week. British fishermen are due to demonstrate tomorrow (3 June), while the secretary of Spain’s fishing federation, Cepesca, told Reuters he is “convinced that there will be a widespread stoppage”. “I expect that the European fleet will be tied up for the next 15-20 days,” he said.

Widespread wrath

Anger is also spreading rapidly to other sectors, including transport and agriculture, which have also been heavily hit by the price increases. In France, thousands of farmers demonstrated and blocked oil depots throughout the country. At the same time, dairy farmers in Germany went on strike, blaming rising fuel prices for pushing up their operating costs while the retail price of milk is actually falling after the EU raised production quotas by 2%. They were followed by farmers in Austria, Denmark, Holland and Belgium.

Truck and taxi drivers also blocked the streets of London, Paris and Sofia last week, calling for government help.

From EurActiv

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