French politicians silent on EU’s oil embargo plans, fear Yellow Vests

For now and until 31 July, petrol prices in France are discounted by 15 cents per litre - a measure that may be extended and adapted. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

French politicians are keeping quiet about the EU’s proposed embargo on Russian oil, most likely to avoid new tensions with the Yellow Vests movement, whose protests shook the country in 2018-2019. EURACTIV France reports.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented a plan to “totally ban” Russian oil imports within six to eight months to the European Parliament on Wednesday (4 May). French MEPs reacted quickly, but lawmakers in France remained quiet on the topic.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renew Europe group in the European Parliament is quite enthusiastic about the proposal.

“It is the right decision to maximise the impact on Russian finances without weakening ourselves,” tweeted Renew MEP Pascal Canfin. His colleague Valérie Hayer spoke of “an essential decision”, warning however that “it will be necessary to mutualise the costs to protect the states.”

The proposal was, however, condemned by far-right Rassemblement National MEP Mathilde Androuët of the European Parliament’s Identity and Democracy (ID) group.

“Not content with granting herself powers that she does not have, Ms von der Leyen is pursuing her sanctions against Europeans much more than Russia. It is urgent to stop this escalation, which serves the war and threatens our purchasing power. The madness of these technocrats is criminal,” she said on Twitter.

EU proposes 'complete ban' on Russian oil imports within six to eight months

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the sixth package of sanctions against Russia on Wednesday (4 May), including a “complete ban on all Russian oil” and refined petroleum products within the next six months and more sanctions against banks.

Probable consequences

However, the embargo will likely result in a further increase in fuel prices even if Russian oil only accounts for 8.7% of French oil imports, according to 2020 figures from the French institute of statistics and economic studies (INSEE).

“The most likely consequence of the embargo is a price hike,” Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, a researcher at the Energy Centre of the Jacques Delors Institute, has warned.

Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili, for her part, told broadcaster France Info on Thursday (5 May): “I can’t say that it will be absolutely without consequences.”

France has “no supply problem”, she said and added that the French should not “rush to the petrol stations”. “We have stocks, there is what is needed. We will be safe for many months,” the minister said.

Olivier Gantois, the president of Ufip Energies and Mobilities, told AFP the same on Wednesday. “There is no major difficulty of supply identified, as long as we are left a few months to reorganize the logistic flows,” he said.

German industry backs oil embargo plans

Germany’s main industry associations have voiced clear support for the EU’s plans to impose a gradual Russian oil embargo, even though they said it would be a challenge.

“The German industry supports this step,” Siegfried Russwurm, president of Germany’s biggest industry …

Avoiding a Yellow Vests-like incident

For now and until 31 July, petrol prices in France are discounted by 15 cents per litre – a measure that may be extended and adapted.

“If we see that we need to extend it, we will extend it,” said Pompili, indicating that the government was working on “a measure that would affect those who need it most, especially heavy drivers”.

However, apart from the minister’s reaction, few national politicians commented on the proposed oil embargo.

“These subjects are inflammable”, said Nguyen, adding that the French government still has trauma from the Yellow Vest protests.

“A support to the embargo would mechanically lead to an increase in prices at the pump,” the expert added.

And with legislative elections coming up in June, politicians are reluctant to comment. “We are in an electoral context so there is a desire not to light a spark that could ignite the debate,” Nguyen added.

Only Green MEP Yannick Jadot, who was a candidate in the presidential elections in April, is calling for speedier action.

“In the European Parliament, von der Leyen announces the embargo on Russian oil at the end of 2022. A step, but the war and atrocities in Ukraine are now! The embargo on oil and gas must be now! For peace, for the climate, for our independence,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

The proposal for an embargo still needs unanimous backing from all EU member states, however. Upcoming negotiations are expected to focus on the deadlines granted to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – countries highly dependent on Russian oil.

Russia’s sixth sanction package opens EU’s Pandora’s Box

Budapest and Bratislava are unhappy with the European Commission’s proposal to ban Russian black gold despite being given extra time to phase it out, while Sofia and Prague have jumped on the bandwagon and are now asking for special treatment. 

Moreover, …

[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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