Saturday

19th Oct 2019

Oil-shocked fishermen clash with police on EU doorstep

  • The fishing industry employs some 400,000 people in the EU (Photo: Commission)

Fishermen badly hit by the ongoing oil price shock themselves attempted to shake the heart of Brussels on Wednesday (4 June), setting fires, overturning cars and skirmishing with police on the doorstep of the European institutions.

Black and orange smoke from fireworks set off by the protesters swirled in the air surrounding the European Commission and Council buildings as hundreds of militant fishermen boisterously chanted, sang, and rattled the barbed wire and police barricades, denouncing European leaders for abandoning them.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Some 200 fishermen from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal were held back from the EU offices by rows of helmeted riot police who charged the fishermen after they fired flares in their direction.

Two cars were overturned and a litter bin was set on fire. A handful of windows in some EU buildings were also broken.

One flare landed metres from the entrance to the commission entrance as civil servants on their cigarette breaks gathered to watch the commotion.

The main streets surrounding the buildings were closed off by police roadblocks and the three closest subway stations had to be shut down.

"We're here to give the bureaucrats a bloody good shaking!" said Patrick Dameuve, a cod fisher from Dieppe and member of the Mediterranean Trawlers' Vigilance Committee.

At one point, the fishermen set European Union flags on fire while helicopters circled overhead

"None of our leaders have any principles," insisted Mr Dameuve, who went on to use a much stronger vernacular cursing both the French government and the EU.

He complained that diesel costs were wiping out his livelihood and demanded that governments offer financial support to the fishermen to enable them to survive the high oil prices. The price of diesel has skyrocketed some 30 percent in the last four months and has gone up 240 percent in the last five years.

The fishing industry employs some 400,000 people in the EU and is particularly important in the four countries from whence most of the fishermen hail.

The fishermen are demanding government help to cut the price of diesel down to 40 cents a litre from its current 80 cents.

The demands come up against EU state aid regulations that limit the amount of financial support member states can offer to different sectors of their economies. The fishermen want such restrictions lifted.

Fishermen jeer commission adviser

The head of fisheries commissioner Joe Borg's cabinet of advisers, Patrick Tabone, came down to the entrance of the commission building to talk to the protesters, although he did not offer the fishermen anything.

"There is the problem of high costs at a time when the sector is also in a situation where there is overcapacity and where there is a need for restructuring," Mr Tabone told the fishermen, who then jeered his recommendations.

On Monday, French finance minister Christine Lagarde suggested EU states cut fuel taxes to aid fishermen and other sensitive sectors.

"The oil prices reached in recent days signal that we have entered the era of expensive oil," she said in a letter to the commission and her fellow European finance ministers.

Her proposal however was rejected by her colleagues, who responded that the solution was a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Austrian finance minister Wilhelm Molterer warned: "What will you do when prices fall again, reintroduce the tax? I'd like to hear the political discussions then!"

Ironically, the crisis comes at a time when commission fisheries officials have warned of acute problems of overfishing as the world's seas and oceans run out of fish. Last week, fisheries regulators warned they were ready to shut down the bluefin tuna fishery within days if they saw evidence of overfishing.

With member states unwilling to voluntarily downsize their fleets, the oil price crisis is doing their job for them.

The march on Brussels, which had been predicted but whose precise timing had been kept secret to "maintain the element of surprise", comes on the heels of a Europe-wide fishing strike and intermittent blockades of ports across the continent by angry fishermen.

The Vigilance Committee only decided on Tuesday to mount the protest, taking a vote during a discussion on how to advance their strike movement.

Oil prices causing protests across Europe

Record oil prices are producing a wave of militancy across Europe by producers and those industries most acutely hit by the crisis.

In recent weeks, dairy producers across Germany, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands and France, squeezed between high petrol prices and supermarkets who have steadily cut the payments for milk, are also on strike and have been spraying their fields with milk rather than selling it.

Lorry drivers, taxi drivers and ambulance workers across Europe also staged protests. On Tuesday, hauliers blockaded French oil firm Total's refineries and fuel depots in Lyon and Marseille. The same Marseille refinery was blockaded by farmers last week who were only chased away by police using baton charges and tear gas.

Yesterday, winegrowers blocked the Frontignan pres de Sete fuel terminal on France's Mediterranean coast, according to AFP reports.

Last week, British truck drivers blocked streets in central London while their French counterparts mounted a 'go-slow' bringing traffic almost to a halt on key highways surrounding Paris. Bulgarian capital Sofia was also hit by lorry, bus and taxi driver protesters who blocked the city's ring road.

The mounting oil crisis, in which a barrel of oil briefly hit $135 on 22 May, has already shaken world leaders as its effect on food prices combined with other stresses on global food supplies to produce riots throughout the developing world in April.

Faced with the growing unrest, EU leaders are to discuss the issue at their 19-20 June summit.

The fishermen, for their part, intend to continue their protests across the continent, marching on a meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers in Luxembourg in a fortnight.

US to put tariffs on European whiskies, cheese

After a 15-year legal battle, the US was given the green light to impose tariffs on EU products. The EU is threatening countermeasures but wants to negotiate. Transatlantic ties have suffered another blow.

News in Brief

  1. Macron: Nato's inability to react to Turkey a 'mistake'
  2. EU: US can expect counter measures after tariff move
  3. Almost 7,500 people forcibly returned to Libya in 2019
  4. Puigdemont released after responding to arrest warrant
  5. Commission: Facebook's Libra needs international approach
  6. Italian PM: denial of accession talks a 'historic mistake'
  7. Catalan president blames clashes on 'infiltrators'
  8. US imposes €6.7bn new tariffs on European products

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  5. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  6. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  7. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  8. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  11. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us