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Should drivers in France prepare for fuel shortages?

A French trade union has called for a 'total blockade' of French oil refineries to force the government to abandon its planned pension reform. What impact will it have on drivers?

Should drivers in France prepare for fuel shortages?
The CGT plans to lock all of France's oil refineries in order to put maximum pressure on the government in what is an increasingly tense conflict over the proposed pension reform. Photo: AFP

The CGT union has called for a 'total blockade' of all of the country's oil refineries from January 7th to 10th in an attempt to force the French government to scrap its pension reform plan.

“Since the government isn't listening, we need to increase the pressure,” said Thierry Dufresne, CGT's representative at Total, on Franceinfo on Monday.

The blockade will escalate tensions between French unions and the government over the latter's attempt to overhaul the country's pension system.

Here is what you need to know about the CGT's plan and how it could affect you.

Why now? 

The unions are due to resume talks with the government on January 7th — the same day as the CGT launches the oil refinery blockades.

Blocking fuel depots is an old strategy that the union has deployed in conflicts with former French governments as a means to turn up the heat under the government's feet. If the plan is successful it would have filling stations all over the country running empty, making life even more difficult for those driving during the transport strikes. 

READ ALSO: The crucial dates that determine what happens next in the French strike saga

Which refineries are targeted?

Seven out of Frances eight refineries are currently targeted, according to Franceinfo. The CGT has tailored a separate blockade plan for each refinery, which are situated in Grandpuits, Donges and Feyzin near Lyon. The rest of the refineries are located overseas.

Five of the refineries are controlled by Total, two by Esso and one by Petroineos.

Also targeted are oil terminals in Dunkerque, Havre and Marseille, along with oil depots and aircraft refuelers. 

The CGT said it will not stop or interfere with the production inside the refineries, just block the exits for 96 hours straight. But, Dufresne told Franceinfo, when they reach the 96-hour mark the union will review the decision of whether or not to shut the installations completely.

When the CGT union blocked oil refineries back in 2010 it was also to protest a planned pension reform. Photo: AFP

Will there be a fuel shortage?

A blockade of several refineries in early December — which was unrelated to the strike against the government's pension reform and not organised by the CGT — lead to around 300 filling stations around the country closing completely, while another 300 reported very low supplies of petrol and diesel.

If all goes according to the CGT's plan, next week's action will severely reduce the fuel supply to the countries filling stations.

Check out this interactive map for the latest information from your area.



If you want to understand more about how the blockade would work in practice, check out this explainer in the tweet below by Le Parisien, “five minutes to understand how fuel journeys from petrol to pump.”

Why is the CGT the only union calling for the blockade?

The CGT is among the French unions that have been striking since December 5th to protest the government's attempt to replace the current pension system of 42 different regimes with one, universal points-based system.

Historically closely aligned with the French Communist Party, the CGT is the most hardline of the striking unions. CGT leader Philippe Martinez has previously said that he will be the last man standing in the fight against the government's pension reform, and that the CGT will not accept anything less than a complete turnover from the government's side.

How is the government responding?

The government has condemned the unionists' plan.

“It's illegal,” said Secretary of State for Economy and Finance Agnès Pannier-Runacher on BFMTV on Thursday.

In an attempt to reassure those who worry that the country will suffer from fuel shortage as a result of the blockade, Minister of Ecology Elisabeth Borne said that France has 'strategic' fuel supplies to handle such situations.

“We have enough stockpiled to last us three months,” she told Franceinfo.

In order to create a real crisis, the strikers would therefore have to keep at it until the beginning of April, according to the government.

Member comments

  1. Agreed. The sensible thing to do (if you a reliant on a car) is to keep the fuel tank full and, if sensible/appropriate to do), fill up a jerry can or two to save at home before the panic buying sets in.

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