French competition watchdog to probe petrol price-fixing
The French government is to ask the national competition watchdog to investigate allegations of price-fixing in the petrol industry, the finance ministry said on Monday.
"The government will request the competition council to investigate at the end of the enquiries" already under way, the finance ministry said. The government had ordered an inquiry in June into how domestic retail oil prices were set to determine whether there was illegal price-fixing in response to persistent consumer complaints that the price of petrol at the pumps was artificially high.
Major oil companies have argued that their prices have risen this year only because of the high price of oil worldwide.
Oil prices rose in London on Monday to hover at just over $30 dollars a barrel on speculation that Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest producer, could cut output in September.
But Michel-Edouard Leclerc, co-president of supermarket chain Leclerc which is seeking to buy a dozen motorway service stations in France, has said that the difference of up to a franc (€0.15, 13 cents) in the price of a litre of petrol between Paris and the suburbs has nothing to do with crude oil prices and everything to do with lack of competition.
TotalFinaElf, formed in a two-stage merger by French group Total with Belgian group Petrofina and then with French group Elf, has been told by the European competition authorities to sell 70 of its French motorway service stations because of its dominant position on the market.
France is not the only country in Europe grappling with problems due to the persistently high price of oil. Last week the German competition watchdog ruled that six big oil companies could not charge higher prices to supply petrol to independent petrol stations than they charged to supply their own stations.
In addition to the rise in global oil prices, German consumers have seen their price of petrol at the pump increased this year by the introduction of a so-called ecology tax on non-renewable sources of energy.
But in Britain, home to the highest petrol prices in Europe, a campaign to persuade roadusers to boycott petrol pumps in a bid to push prices down has met with only lukewarm response, although this may be because the government, not the oil companies, is seen as the chief culprit.
About 75 percent of the price at the pump in Britain goes to the government in taxes, according to European Union figures
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)