Soaring Diesel Prices in Europe Fuel Protests
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Eleanor Beardsley reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLIDING DOOR)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: At a Berlin gas station, Andreas Schmidt is filling up his Volkswagen minivan. Schmidt says he's been driving a lot less lately and taking his bike a bit more. But his $120 gas bill today has him contemplating more drastic solutions.
MONTAGNE: Also I was thinking about other possibilities of fuel. For example, people use sunflower oil, which is possible to use but a bit problematic in the winter because the car doesn't start that easy with sunflower oil. But it's half of price so it's very interesting.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
BEARDSLEY: Schmidt aside, most European car drivers seem to be coping better than Americans with the price of fuel. Gasoline has always been expensive here because of high taxes, and because those taxes account for up to 60 percent of the pump price, dramatic changes in the price of crude oil aren't felt as sharply by the consumer. Americans pay much lower taxes on gasoline - about 12 percent - so they've felt every jump in the price of oil.
U: (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Diesel cars make up more than 50 percent of new car sales in Europe, but Didier Houssin of the International Energy Agency says what's hit European consumers is the sudden rise in the price of diesel fuel.
MONTAGNE: Diesel has been encouraged by governments in Europe, and especially in France for a very long time. But when the consumers decide to buy a diesel car they expect to pay also a lower price at the pump and it's no more the case. And now the price of diesel is higher than for gasoline - it's like $10 per gallon - and this is creating a very strong reaction among consumers.
(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)
BEARDSLEY: Last month, French fishermen began blockading ports and demonstrating in the streets to protest the high cost of diesel fuel. The protests spread to other European countries and truckers joined them, blocking highways into major cities. Farmers blockaded oil depots or drove their tractors slowly through the streets of European cities. The protests turned violent around the European parliament in downtown Brussels last week when E.U. ministers rejected a plan to subsidize diesel fuel.
MONTAGNE: (French spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Although most ordinary motorists here seem to be more resigned than their American counterparts to the steep price of fuel, analysts say that could change if the price goes much higher. In the small towns and rural areas of Europe, where incomes are lower and there is little public transport, people are feeling the pinch.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)
BEARDSLEY: In the French provincial town of Salon-de-Provence, residents like Jean Vair(ph) use their cars for everything. Vair says he stopped taking weekend trips to the nearest big city of Marseilles.
MONTAGNE: (Through translator) Gas is too expensive, but we have no choice here. I have to make my tank last three weeks so I drive slowly, try to economize in this way.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.