2,500 Belgian truckers, taxis protest fuel prices

Reuters, 10 September 2000

BRUSSELS, Sept 10 (Reuters)—Up to 2,500 trucks, buses and taxis converged on Brussels on Sunday, joining a wave of protests across Europe against rising fuel costs and demanding tax relief.

Just as a six-day blockade of French oil refineries and storage depots came to end, Belgian transport workers joined growing protests in other European countries. Sporadic blockades of oil refineries continued in Britain, following protests in Germany and Italy. In Ireland truckers threatened nationwide protests next week unless the government took action to cut the price of diesel.

Belgian protest leaders said a 50 percent rise in the cost of diesel fuel since the beginning of 1999 was threatening profitability. Emphasising that the problem is European in scope, they demanded action by the European Union to ensure that member countries lowered fuel excise taxes, as well as moves by the Belgian government to cut costs. With horns blaring and lights flashing, the vehicles snaked through Brussels after converging in front of the office of Transport Minister Isabelle Durant.

The demonstration remained peaceful despite Durant's refusal to meet with leaders. Organisers said they would meet with Durant's staff on Monday and would not make any decisions on further protests pending the outcome of that meeting.Before (fuel) was 10 to 12 percent of costs. Now it's 15 to 20 percent of costs, Paul Laeremans, chairman of the Belgian Federation of Bus Operators (FBAA), told Reuters.We can't recover the costs from our clients and unemployment threatens, Laeremans said Philippe Degraef, director of the Royal Belgian Federation of Truckers (FEBETRA), which represents 2,700 businesses, said truckers face similar pressures.

For the majority, there's an enormous problem with liquidity, he said.In three weeks (fuel) has risen by 3 Belgian francs (six cents), Degraef added.Theoretically, it's true, we can get this back from our clients. But in reality you can't knock on someone's door every two weeks to demand increases. Degraef said the rising fuel prices have meant additional costs per year, per truck, of 200,000 Belgian francs ($4,299). Laeremans noted that Belgium's transport minister, a member of the Green Ecolo party, has been ideologically opposed to cutting fuel costs.She (Durant) wants a return to rail transport, he said.But we have to be realistic. The great majority of people and goods are transported by road. Trains lack flexibility. ($1-46.52 Belgian Franc)