France on Thursday sought to defuse growing anger about record fuel prices, announcing a cap until the end of 2022 and aid for poor households struggling with energy bills.
Almost three years since the start of "yellow vest" protests that rocked French President Emmanuel Macron's government, Prime Minister Jean Castex said 100 euros ($116) would be paid to those earning less than 2,000 euros a month to help them with rising energy prices.
This will affect some 38 million people, he said, adding that "petrol prices will be frozen for the whole of 2022".
Like all countries, France has been hit by a surge in oil and gas prices since the middle of the year caused by a spike in global demand and supply shortages.
But Macron has particular reason to worry: the violent anti-government protests of 2018 by low-income voters in fluorescent yellow safety vests were sparked by anger over rising fuel prices and attempts to tax heavily polluting vehicles.
In six months' time, the 43-year-old head of state is also set to seek a second term -- and was hoping to build his campaign around his record on job creation and tax cuts.
"We obviously want to protect French people, above all those people who work hard and are taking the full force of these price rises," government spokesman Gabriel Attal told journalists on Wednesday.
Pump prices of diesel hit a record high in France, while those of petrol neared their 2012 peak Photo: AFP / Fred TANNEAU
Last weekend, small protests were held in some rural areas and small towns -- the heartland of "yellow vest" discontent -- suggesting the first rumblings of dissent over recent rises.
Average diesel prices hit an all-time record last week of 1.5583 euros a litre, while petrol neared a 10-year high at 1.6567 euros a litre, slightly below the all-time record reached in April 2012, official data shows.
The price of diesel has risen 29 percent over the past year -- seven percent just in the last month -- while the cheapest unleaded petrol is up 25 percent on the year and 5 percent in the past month, according to the website carbu.com.
For Macron, who remains the favourite for next April's election, the response to the energy crunch could be vital ahead of a poll in which his far-right opponents are already campaigning on immigration, Islam and French identity.
Eight out of 10 households have a vehicle, according to official statistics.
Attal was clear about the threat to the president's economic record after five years of tax cuts and efforts to raise the purchasing power of French consumers.
"We don't want the rise in energy prices, particularly petrol, to wipe out these measures," he said on Wednesday. "It's not the case yet today, but the rises are nibbling away at these efforts."
Source : https://www.ibtimes.com/france-sets-fuel-price-cap-following-anger-protests-3321842698