Why fuel prices are rising in France (and why that might worry Macron)

Some bad news for motorists - fuel prices in France have increased by 16 percent for petrol since the beginning of the year, while diesel prices are up 12 percent.

Why fuel prices are rising in France (and why that might worry Macron)
Prices at the pumps are rising. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

A litre of diesel cost €1.43 in the second week of August, while super unleaded petrol cost €1.59, according to the French Ministry of Ecological Transition.

Prices had fallen all the way to €1.16 for diesel and €1.23 for petrol at the height of the pandemic in May 2020 as rising Covid cases brought the world to a standstill.

“We are simply returning to prices recorded just before the pandemic,” Olivier Gantois, president of the Union française des industries pétrolières (French Union of Petroleum Industries) told Le Parisien.

“Since French fuel prices are made up of 60 percent taxes, it’s the non-tax part – and so the international markets – which is influencing the variations.”

Brent crude oil prices – the global reference for oil prices – fell below $20 the barrel in April 2020, but have increased as the global economy has gotten going again. A barrel cost $73 in June and $74 in July.

But while President Emmanuel Macron will be keeping a close eye on developments, since the cost of living has been a key complaint during protests since he came to power, fuel prices have not quite reached the levels seen in recent years.

Prices reached €1.53 for diesel and €1.57 for petrol in October 2018, a month before the first ‘Yellow Vest’ protests began and the cost of driving (essential for those in remote areas with limited public transport options) became a key rallying cry of the movement, from extra green fuel taxes to speed limits on rural roads.

Alberto Balboni, an economist with private research institute Xerfi, told AFP fuel prices should stabilise at around $70 per barrel “between now and the end of the year or even beyond, because at that price, few producers will want to sacrifice part of their production in order to push prices even further, which would risk discouraging demand.”

Other experts have warned that further fluctuations cannot be rules out depending on the health situation.

In the case of petrol, there are other possible explanations beyond the evolution of the pandemic.

“In the summer, there is always an inflation of petrol because it’s the holiday season in the United States, where it’s in great demand,” Francis Pousse of the Conseil national des professions de l’automobile told AFP.

For drivers of diesel vehicles visiting from the UK it’s still worth filling up in France, since diesel is significantly more expensive in the UK at an average of 137.2p or €1.60 per litre.

Unleaded petrol prices are virtually identical, 135.3p or €1.58 per litre, compared to €1.59 in France. 

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OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

It's another hot summer in France and there's another predictable uproar over the Burkini. If France wants to take its place in a multicultural world then it must make room for all its citizens, writes civil liberties expert Rim-Sarah Alouane.

OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

France’s compulsive obsession with the behaviour and dress of its Muslim citizens has taken on worrying proportions, and has turned over the years into a form of mass hysteria. The “burkini affair” is one of many examples.

The burkini is a two-piece full body swimsuit with sleeves, long legs and a headgear. This type of swimming-suit made of Lycra® leaves the face, feet and hands uncovered. It was invented in 2003 by Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, who wanted to develop sporting attire for Muslim women that would allow them to take part in sports activities while accommodating their religious beliefs. While the burkini was first designed for Muslim women, it has also been adopted by many non-Muslim women who wish to cover their bodies for various reasons.

The controversy escalated in 2016, when the French Council of State – France’s highest administrative court – overturned a series of local initiatives to ban the use of burkinis on public beaches. These bans were implemented in an atmosphere of increasing anti-Muslim sentiment by local officials who argued that such attire disturbed the public order. The Council saw no such disturbance and argued that it was an infringement on constitutionally protected civil liberties. This, however, did not end the controversy.

READ ALSO: Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

In response, the political establishment from across the political spectrum tried to find legal loopholes to circumvent the ruling, turning their attention to municipal swimming pools where they could modify the rules governing public services.

A recent controversy involved the Green Party Mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolle, who authorized the wearing of the burkini (as well as topless swimsuits) in municipal swimming pools, triggering an avalanche of criticism. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused Mr Piolle of entertaining “communitarian provocation” and that authorizing the wearing of the burkini in public swimming pools was contrary to France’s values. Once again, French Muslim women found themselves stigmatised and targeted.

They were accused of being a conduit for Islamist extremism, separatism, patriarchy, and violating the principle of laïcité. This discourse, like so much before it, happened without inviting Muslim women themselves to be a part of the conversation.

Modern interpretations of Laïcité – France’s unique way of managing church-state relations – have become an ideological tool for political identity, a factor of division, and the exclusion of French Muslims from the societies in which they live. How did we get here?

The meaning of the term “laïcité” has become obscured by the fact that its interpretations are diverse and sometimes contradictory.

Its current usage betrays the very liberal intention of the 1905 law on “Separation of Church and State”, the ruling which forms the foundation of the principle. 

Laïcité once defined the territories in which the State is sovereign and religious belief is left at the door. It generates obligations for the state to remain neutral and guarantee the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of its citizens, within the limits of public order.

A significant misinterpretation of the 1905 law persists to this day. The law does not require religious belief or visible signs thereof to be kept in the home. However, politicians and pundits on a daily basis cite the law in their efforts to erase any religious visibility (especially Islam) in the public square.

Any attempt to show visible attributes of faith outside the home are deemed to be a threat to a commonly-held belief that France’s citizens should conform to an imaginary notion of what it means to be French. This very illiberal interpretation of laïcité and religious neutrality goes against the essence of the Law of 1905.

As France continues to mature as a country made up of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, vulnerable communities have begun to advocate for their rights to be treated as equals with their fellow French citizens without giving up their personal beliefs and customs.

Critics of the clothing choices of Muslim women have forgotten the fundamental freedoms of the Declaration of  the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, often seeking to free Muslim women from their religion. Even when Muslim women dare to defend their basic rights, they are often accused of being radicalised.

A good Muslim woman is a quiet invisible woman. The irony is that many Muslim women who wear their burkinis to swimming pools or wear headscarves during sports competitions actually go against rigorous interpretations of Islam. In order to justify burkini bans, politicians or commentators will often point to Muslim-majority countries who have similar prohibitions, as if authoritarian states were a role model for France to follow.

Muslim women are perceived as a threat because they shake France’s status quo. The illusion of France being a colour-blind nation has been broken. If France really believes that multicultural communities threaten the character of the country, it must not believe that its culture – one that the entire world looks up to – is actually that strong.

But if France is to take its place in a multicultural world, it needs to come to terms with how vulnerable communities fit within the notion of French identity and make room for all its citizens.

Rim-Sarah Alouane is a doctoral candidate and a researcher in comparative law at the University Toulouse Capitole in France. Her research focuses on civil liberties, constitutional law, and human rights in Europe and North America. She tweets @rimsarah