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France gives in to ecotax protestors

Jan 06, 2014
In what must have been a humiliating climb down, the French government suspended the unpopular ‘ecotax’ that would have imposed new levies on all vehicles over 3.5 tonnes operating in France. It was due to come into force in January 2014 and would have raised an estimated 800 million euros in tax revenue.

Protestors said that the tax would seriously damage the region’s precarious farming and food sectors by increasing transportation costs, driving companies out of business and leading to major job losses. It would, of course, also have added costs to any moving company transporting goods to or through France.  The heat has now been taken off – perhaps never to return.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault emphasised that the move was "a suspension, not a cancellation" of the tax.  “I have decided to suspend the implementation of this ecotax, to provide the necessary time for dialogue at the national and regional level," he said.

The French have something of a reputation for not taking things lying down when they disagree.  The week before the announcement, for example, around 1,000 protesters clashed with police as they attempted to destroy a toll gate near the town of Pont-de-Buis.  They lit bales of hay and tyres and threw eggs at police, who responded with tear gas. At least three protesters were injured, one of them seriously, while six police officers reported injuries.  Jean-Marc Ayrault said that the tax was being suspended to give time for the government to listen to opponents and “to avert the escalation of violence".

Bruno Gentry, President of France Nature Environment - the country’s federation for the protection of the environment - was not impressed. “The environment has become the scapegoat for economic problems,” he said pointing out the fact that ten other countries had successfully introduced a similar tax.

Christian Troadec, the mayor of the town of Carhaix however, said that the suspension was not going far enough.  "Brittany is demanding the permanent suspension of the ecotax, especially since we don't know how long this moratorium will last," he said.

The ecotax, which was first put forward under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, would have been paid by all trucks, both French and foreign, travelling on a total of 10,000 km of motorways, national roads and 5,000 km of county or municipal roads. The aim was to encourage companies to use greener forms of transport and opt for shorter journeys, where possible.

All vehicles that are liable for the tax would have been obliged to be equipped with an On Board Unit (OBU) which would calculate the amount of ecotax due, based on the distance travelled and which roads were taken.

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