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Economy

Green campaigners, unions slam scrapping of France’s ecotax

media French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Green campaigners and trade unionists have slammed the French government’s scrapping of its proposed ecotax. Environment Minister Ségolène Royal announced on Thursday that plans to tax road freight have been abandoned after transport companies threatened to blockade the nation’s motorways.

“You could say we’ve won,” was the reaction of Aline Mesples of the OTRE road haulage federation and farmers’ union FNSEA declared “At last good sense has prevailed.”

But former housing minister Cécile Duflot, a member of the Green Party EELV, called the decision to dump the controversial tax in all its forms a “disastrous mistake”, while EELV’s national secretary Emanuelle Cosse said she was “scandalised”.

Another former government member, Frédéric Cuvillier, who was transport minister when violent protests forced the suspension of the tax, declared the decision to scrap it altogether an “enormous waste”.

The ecotax was agreed with all-party backing under the previous right-wing government but ran into trouble last year when stormy protests erupted in the western region of Brittany.

Two major environmental campaigns, the Fondation Nicolas Hulot and France Nature Environnement, also laid into the decision, the former claiming the ecotax was “becoming a major scandal”.

Trade unions joined in the chorus of criticism with the transport section of the CGT federation calling the climbdown a “capitulation” to haulage bosses and the tax collectors’ and customs officers’ branches of the CFDT federation condemning a “hasty announcement”.

But one transport union, FO-Transports, was out of step, having backed the call for a blockade, arguing that a rise in transport costs would have a knock-on effect on social policy.

The scrapping of the tax leaves a hole of nearly 400 million euros in the government’s budget.

The money was supposed to finance maintenance and improvement of road and rail and develop less polluting forms of transport.

Royal pledged to raise the money from motorway toll companies, whose 20-24 per cent return on investment were judged excessive by the official competition watchdog last month.

But Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Friday warned that taxing the companies would mean either a rise in tolls or a lengthening of the time they are allowed to operate.

A further problem is the termination of the government’s contract with Ecomouv’, the consortium that was supposed to collect the ecotax.

Its 200 employees greeted the news with dismay.

They now fear for their jobs, as do 30 customs officials recruited in 2012-13 to administer it.

The government's contract with Ecomouv' obliges it to reimburse the 800 million euros already spent on toll booths and other necessary equipment and buildings.

Le Monde newspaper on Friday estimated that the decision will cost the government two billion euros.
 

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