Fuel tax protests throughout Scandinavia

Last week, Norwegian truckers announced that they would launch a blockade of five of the countries' main oil refineries and terminals at Oslo, Fredrikstad, Toensberg and two in Stavanger.

Eleven facilities have been blockaded by members of Bileierenes Interesseorganisasjon (BIO), a truckers and motorists group led by a Kurt Enger. The blockades are aimed primarily at petrol and heating oil supplies in the south of the country, with only southern refineries being targeted. Enger has insisted that the blockade will allow heating and power supplies to be maintained for hospitals, day-care centres and old peoples' homes. Petrol stations are expected to be empty within a week.

As in the rest of the Continent, the protests are in response to continually rising fuel prices that are ruining small hauliers and farmers, and imposing hardship on ordinary motorists. Protest groups are calling for fuel costs to be reduced from the present $1.08 a litre, half of which is tax, to around $0.75.

Fuel protests in Norway have been building for months. With both trade union and industry support, in January 10,000 vehicles blockaded transport centres, border crossings, and fuel depots for 24 hours complaining that fuel costs were the highest in Europe. A contingent of vehicles circled the Storting (parliament). In response the then Christian Democrat government indicated it would consider reducing fuel tax. Protests were renewed with the inauguration of the new Labour government in March.

As in Britain, where the Conservative Party have supported the truckers, the Norwegian Tories and the right wing Progress Party have sought to utilise the truckers' calls for lower fuel tax in line with their own demands for lower taxes per se.

Elsewhere in Scandinavia, Finnish truckers stopped access to the Porvoo refinery, again in response to high fuel costs. The Finnish haulage industry has long been pressuring the government for concessions and the government has agreed to establish a working party to examine conditions facing the industry, although its new budget contains no fuel tax reductions. Helsingin Sanomat reports that Finnish truckers have been particularly hard hit over the last years, with many owner-drivers finding it cheaper to simply park up their vehicles and wait for better times than to attempt to find business.

In Sweden, hundreds of farmers jammed the E20 motorway with a go-slow on Sunday. A blockade of the ports in Stockholm and Gothenburg was called off. Both Shell and Statoil have announced they will reduce the price of diesel by 2 cents, partly reversing another recent increase, leaving diesel costing around $0.95 a litre.