Europe's Green Groups Fight to Keep High Fuel Taxes

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 13, 2000 (ENS) - Europe's environmental movement is offering increasingly vocal support for high oil prices, as the continent's backlash against government imposed fuel taxes deepens and spreads.

The principle was also backed yesterday by the European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, who told journalists she was "not sorry" about high oil prices.

Wallstrom

European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Leading the way at European Union level, NGO coalition group the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said today that petrol's "real costs" were still not reflected in its price. The EEB represents 137 member organizations in 26 countries.

"It is not so that petrol is now suddenly very expensive. It is more so that it has been during long periods irresponsibly cheap, making it difficult to promote other modes of transport, in particular road and waterways," said EEB president Lone Johnson.

"The low prices have also made it profitable to drag goods back and forth all over the EU just because of, for example, some marginal price differences in labour costs for some parts of the production process," he said.

For environmental and related social reasons, health, noise etc., an ever increasing volume of road and air traffic is unacceptable, the EEB said in a statement.

The group called on the European Commission and EU countries to "convert crisis into opportunity."

Governments should enable the transport industry to pass on higher fuel costs to customers and so remain economically viable. Increased VAT (sales tax) income from higher oil prices should be used to support public and rail transport, the group said.

trucks

Heavy trucking firms are feeling the pain of the fuel squeeze. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy Freefoto.com)
The German environmental group Bund has taken a similarly strong line, last week attacking tax concessions made by France, and now seeking to counter a new campaign by the main centre-right opposition Christian Democratic Union party against the government's ecotax program.

In the UK, Friends of the Earth has pleaded with the government to stand firm against protesters and to "make the environmental case" for high fuel prices. Today the group issued its own point-by-point defence of high and rising fuel taxes.

Britain is currently the European Union country worst affected by fuel - and even food - shortages due to blockades of oil refineries by hauliers and farmers.

Michael Johnson, spokesman for the Automobile Association of Britain, says the average price for a gallon of unleaded gasoline in the UK this month is the equivalent of US$4.02. Norway has the continent's highest prices at US$4.30 a gallon. Spanish drivers pay the least at US$2.79. Taxes can add as much as 80 percent to a gallon of gas.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}