Protests Shut Down Highways Across Europe : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Sep 15, 2000 - 03:21 PM

Protests Shut Down Highways Across Europe

By Arthur Max

Associated Press Writer

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - Truckers' protests over high fuel prices spread Friday, backing up traffic for miles on highways from Spain to Poland. Some governments caved in while others refused, reflecting the political divisions in Europe.

In The Hague, truck and taxi drivers circled government buildings blaring their horns to demand tax breaks - an unusually boisterous protest in a nation where politics usually work on consensus and quiet negotiation. Other angry Dutch drivers dismantled highway barriers to escape traffic jams.

Strikers ruled many highways as protests reached into Spain, Germany, Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic. Thoroughfares were jammed in dozens of cities from end to end of Europe - from the Baltic port of Gdansk, Poland to the Spanish coast.

The Italian government struck a deal with truckers to avoid a strike, and Belgium and Britain began returning to normal as their own protests eased.

The varying responses of the governments also showed a streak of disunity within the 15-member European Union; France - where the protests began - gave in to protesters' demands for a tax break but Britain refused to yield.

In Germany, where trucks, taxis and tractors blockaded the center of the northern city of Bremen for three hours, the government refused to back off a planned fuel tax increase. But it said it was looking for ways to ease the pressure on the needy. Newspaper reports spoke of help on heating fuel for the poor or discount vouchers.

The Dutch government promised to meet truckers on Saturday to find a way to end highway blockades. "We want to stay within the limits of the European Union. We don't want to break from the rest," the Dutch economic affairs minister, Annemarie Jorritsma, told The Associated Press.

Taxi drivers closed the tunnel from Amsterdam to Schiphol, choking off traffic to one of Europe's busiest airports for an hour before dawn Friday.

On some Dutch highways, motorists stuck in an endless ribbon of motionless traffic took apart metal sections of the median guardrails to make U-turns. Others sat morosely, waiting for the blockade to lift. A disruption of supplies of fuel or components brought some auto factories to a standstill in Germany and Belgium.

But Britain, the worst-hit country, began returning to normal after protesters lifted a blockade of fuel depots and refineries. Motorists joined long lines outside gasoline stations to fill their tanks. The Department of Trade and Industry estimated that by Friday night, 26 percent of the nation's 13,000 stations would have fuel again. Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to listen to protesters but offered no tax breaks.

Belgium, whose borders reopened after being closed by strikes Thursday, also resumed an air of normalcy, except for a walking protest in the industrial city of Charleroi by farmers and metal workers. In the Netherlands, truckers drove their rigs from every corner the country to the graceful old streets of The Hague to blast their message of protest outside government offices.

Police in flak jackets stood by on alert near the Parliament building, and diverted traffic from the narrow inner city streets clogged by horn-hooting trucks. Police issued a permit to the truck drivers on condition that they bring only their cabs into the city.

High taxes on gas is a policy adopted in Europe decades ago as an environmental measure to discourage excessive fuel consumption and encourage the development of cleaner alternative sources.

Taxes range from 51 percent in Greece to 73 percent in Britain, where diesel cost an average of $4.33 a gallon last month. With public concern mounting over global warming partially caused by so-called greenhouse gases, the high tax rate has largely been accepted.

But crude oil prices have tripled since last December, to more than $30 per barrel from $10, reaching a level transport workers call a threat to the livelihood.

"The explosive increase in the price of diesel fuel has put many companies on the verge of bankruptcy," said the Dutch Transport Operators Association, which brought 360 trucks from the country's 12 provinces to The Hague.

The association demanded a reduction in diesel taxes by 20 percent to the European minimum, said spokeswoman Clarisse Buma.

-- Carl Jenkins (, September 15, 2000


Good grief, everytime you think the situation in Europe is settling down it flares up all over again.

-- Chance (, September 15, 2000.

My big worry over all of this is the seeming collapse of the Euro. At some point this has to effect stock markets eveywhere, and in a big way.

-- Welleslely (, September 15, 2000.

The Euro is a major holding in the portfolios of hedge funds throghout the world. If they don't get a handle on these disruptions soon, I, too, think the Euro will explode, and result in a disaster for the world economy.

-- Billiver (, September 15, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ