Schröder accuses oil companies of 'price ramping'
Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, accused oil companies of exacerbating Europe's petrol crisis, demanding that cartel authorities investigate what he called "incomprehensible price ramping", Financial Times reported.
Schröder's comments on Wednesday followed fresh pump price increases in Germany which threatened to heighten protests against high fuel prices which have erupted across Europe.
Citing Shell as an example of a company set to make huge profits this year, he accused the oil majors of "incomprehensible price ramping at the expense of comsumers".
"My impression is that it was agreed and I'm assuming that cartel authorities in Europe will look very closely at this case," the chancellor said.
In a further sign of mounting European concern over the political effect of high oil prices, French premier Lionel Jospin said France would be calling on Saturday at a G7 meeting in Prague for an informal meeting of EU finance ministers with the US and "certain" oil producing countries to establish a better dialogue on how to stabilize oil prices, Financial Times wrote.
Angry protests against high fuel prices have caused widespread disruption and shaken governments' popularity in a number of European countries, especially in Britain and France. The protests have also sparked sharp differences between EU members over how to respond.
On Wednesday the French government offered new concessions on fuel taxes in a bid to appease truckers, farmers and other groups which mounted a series of blockades to protest high fuel taxes earlier this month.
France also called a meeting of EU transport ministers in Luxembourg in a bid to co-ordinate reaction to the protests. France, holder of the EU presidency, is believed to have wanted its European partners to consider the prospect of closer coordination of fuel price policy, including the possibility of harmonization of fuel taxes. But Germany and Britain have strongly opposed making short-term concession on fuel taxes.
Reinhard Klimmt, German transport minister, sharply criticized concessions by the French, Belgium and Dutch governments. "It makes no sense when finance ministers agree not to cut taxes on oil but that is circumvented by countries within Europe."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, finance minister, have also rejected tax cuts, despite a promise by the Conservative opposition to make such a move if it returned to power.
A British official said: "Gordon Brown has made it clear that energy taxes are a matter for the British exchequer. We consider these discussions (in Luxembourg) very dangerous."
The European Commission said it would meet national authorities next Friday to discuss ways of ensuring adequate competition in motor fuels. Mario Monti, the EU's competition commissioner, said: "We are well aware that competition rules alone cannot solve all or even most, problems in this sector." But he said regulators would explore how EU and national law could contribute to greater competition.
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