France unveils energy aid to counter Ukraine war fallout

PARIS (AP) — France’s government announced Wednesday a massive emergency aid program for farmers, fishermen, truckers and other professionals battered by fuel-price surges resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Jean Castex unveiled a raft of economic assistance measures that include partially covering fuel costs amounting to 0.35 euros (39 U.S. cents) a liter for fishermen’s boats and 0.15 euros (17 U.S. cents) cents a liter for truckers.

Castex said the measure for fishermen goes into effect Thursday.

Some fishing boats no longer go out to sea for their daily catch because the cannot afford fuel costs. Fuel-guzzling transport companies also say they’re being asphyxiated by soaring prices. Some are warning that their survival can only be assured if they pass on their extra costs to consumers through increasing prices on food and other essentials.

Nourrédine Ziane, who runs MTS Transports in the Bordeaux region, thought it was a good investment when he started buying less polluting natural gas-powered trucks for his family-founded road haulage business. Last year, he was still paying just 60 euro cents (66 US$ cents) for the gas equivalent of a liter of diesel fuel. Now, as gas prices have soared with the tensions and then war in Ukraine, that same amount is sometimes costing him as much as 3 euros, he says.

Running his nine gas-powered vehicles has become so expensive that he has had to idle two of them.

“I feel like we are being taken hostage,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview before the prime minister’s announcements.

Between paying for more expensive fuel and passing on much – but not all – of those extra costs to clients, there’s often weeks of delay, forcing him to drain company funds – by as much as 150,000 euros ($165,000) per month – to bridge that gap.

“We have to fight with clients to explain why it’s more expensive,” he said. Ziane is also the top representative in the southwestern Aquitaine region for a major French road haulage federation that is pushing for additional government aid.

“We risk seeing a lot of companies going under before the end of the year,” he said.

The French prime minister laid out a multi-million dollar “resilience plan” to bolster companies. It follows government help for businesses hit by the COVID-19 health crisis that shut down large sectors of France. No exact figures were announced.

The government will pay half of additional energy costs for all companies whose gas and electricity expenses amount to at least 3% of their turnover and risk a loss this year, Castex said.

He stressed that the aid plan is a first step in what is an evolving situation as Europe adds layers of sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, notably impacting European Union companies and citizens.

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