Back To Square One?

photo: bistro la sieste, montparnasse

This bistro in Montparnasse looks like it is asleep.

Wheels Roll Again In Paris

Paris:- Sunday, 10. September 2000:- Last week the main topic of news was the gradual disappearance of fuel from filling station around France. Near the end of the week, the noose tightened around Paris.

What also disappeared was a good part of Paris' habitual traffic. I noticed this first on Thursday, when the normally fully jammed Quai du Louvre outside the Café Metropole Club's café, was nearly deserted.

Yet, as a far as I know, this was not mentioned in newspapers nor on TV-news. Perhapsphoto: quai du louvre traffic jam no cars was 'no news.'

In the midst of the crises the petrol giant TotalFinaElf announced sharply increased profits for the first six months of this year.

On a normal 'club' day, you can't see the bouquinistes.

The figure reported was an astounding plus of 165 percent - which was about three times better than a year earlier - and a third better than any of the other best-performing oil companies.

French Gas 'Hostage' Success

Last week's national oil boycott has been wildly misinterpreted outside of France if I am any judge of reader reactions that have been sporadically trickling in.

A Metropole reader and Café Metropole Club member wrote from Queens, "No money at ATMs and banks, then no gas. What group is going to hold the country hostage next - laundromat workers?"

Careful analysis of the situation has revealed that the French are perfectly capable and willing to govern themselves if the government fails to act in a timely fashion.

When the recently announced government tax reductions did nothing to redress the excessive prices of petroleum products, certain residents simply staged a nation-wide boycott of them.

This achieved two goals quickly: a variety of reductions on petroleum taxes and some other taxes; and the boycott sent a strong warning signal to oil producing countries. In effect, the French said, "We can live without your lousy oil!"

Just imagine - the whole worldwide oil-chain of supply suddenly had a cork in it. Only so many supertankers can be diverted; hundreds of refineries can store only so muchphoto: fiat 500, smart production. What happens to this oil-chain when a large car-crazy country suddenly just says 'No!'

The 'Fiat 500 of the Week' and another car, both parked.

We will probably never see the figures, but the cost of the gas not burned up by French consumers last week, is never going to be recuperated by oil producers, oil companies or France's tax collectors.

Not only this - as both farmers and truckers removed their blockades throughout France, they vowed to reinstall them at any time without warning if certain government agencies and domestic and foreign oil producers were thought to be getting too greedy again.

The farmers also picked up another 'ace' to play. They squeezed a promise out of the government, for aid to increase the production of 'bio-fuels.' This will aid farmers who produce it and generally reduce dependence on petroleum imports.

The French government, in a timid attempt to play catch-up, has suggested to OPEC that it should consider $28 per barrel as a maximum price.

Meanwhile, truck drivers put gas tankers into heavy rotation in France. Lines of motorists formed near filling stations in the hopes that fuel would arrive soon.

French 'Lunacy' Proves Infectious

Beginning today, other European countries are looking at the lesson of the professional-level boycott in France, and erecting their own barricades to blockade oil refineries and storage depots.

Central Brussels has been blocked by Belgium's truckers and taxi operators and British haulers are looking for likely targets.

Prime minister Tony Blair has firmly adopted a 'no negotiations' stance, and government spokesmen have pointed out that there are 'laws' in Britain - and by implication indicated that there are none in France.

Obviously the TV has been switched off at 10 Downing Street. If it hasn't, the Prime Minister must be aware that Britain does not have enough jails to hold all the truckers that may be tempted to challenge the authorities.

In Britain fuel costs more than in France - despite being a country which has a source of crude which costs less than the world-level OPEC price.

The 11-member Organization of Oil Exporting Countries, meeting over the weekend in Vienna, announced a production risephoto: gas guzzled scooter of the week of 800,000 barrels a day. This brings the total production rise for this year alone to an extra three million barrels daily, and OPEC ministers said they can do no more.

Torched scooter was unrelated to Paris gas shortage.

OPEC also suggested that governments 'come clean' and reduce the taxes they levy on petroleum products. How this would reduce demand that OPEC apparently cannot match, wasn't mentioned.

Road professionals were joining the lower-price movement in Holland, Denmark and Sweden. In France, other workers such as artisans who need to use smaller trucks professionally, are unhappy with concessions already accorded to the groups already mollified, and they want to benefit from reduced petroleum taxes as well.

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