Italian fishermen join strike over fuel prices

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Fishermen from Italy are the latest to join in an open-ended strike by the Spanish and Portuguese in protest against rising fuel costs.

28 May 2008

ROME - Italy's fishermen said Wednesday they would join in a strike by the Spanish and Portuguese in protest against higher prices for the fuel to power their boats.

Federcoopesca, the chief fisheries union, said it was joining in an open-ended strike along with the Spanish and Portuguese starting Friday.

A statement said members would leave their boats in port "to protest intolerable costs and the increased price of diesel fuel which continues spiralling out of control".

It said the industrial action would last "at least until the agriculture minister Luca Zaia is prepared to meet us".

The union says it represents 80 percent of Italian fishermen with 300 fishery cooperatives and 17,000 members.

While a fisheries protest in France was called off at key ports Wednesday, industrial action spread in Spain and Portugal where fishermen declared an open-ended strike starting Friday.

The Italian agriculture and fisheries minister Tuesday joined a French request to the European Union to relax rules to provide more public financial support for the EU fishing industry in order to meet fuel price increases.

Fisheries provide a livelihood for some 400,000 people in the EU, mainly in Spain, France, Italy and Portugal.

EU ministers called Tuesday for direct EU economic aid to the fishing industry but met with opposition from the Netherlands and Portugal, as European fishermen continued to protest soaring fuel costs.

France and Spain, whose fishermen are demanding higher government subsidies in the face of rising oil prices, led the call for direct EU economic assistance.

"Spain asks for measures at the EU level," Spanish Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa Mangana told journalists on the sidelines of a conference of EU agriculture ministers, hosted by current EU president Slovenia.

French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier also warned that the EU should consider introducing direct economic assistance, rather than rely on imports from third countries, if it wants to keep a strong fishing industry.

EU member states can currently give their fishermen a subsidy of up to EUR 30,000 over a three-year period without seeking the European Commission's approval.

But French and Spanish fishermen consider this too low and have demanded additional help from their governments to be able to cope with the sharp increase of diesel prices.

"Italy and France agree on the fact that the situation related to oil prices is very serious... and call for a common action (to raise state subsidy levels)," said Italy's Zaia.

French fishermen launched protests on 10 May to press for compensation for soaring fuel costs and Spanish fleets joined the stoppage on Monday, with others in Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Portugal announcing plans to follow.

[AFP / Flickr contributor mjose_almeida / Expatica]

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