Brent Spar Affair: Oil giant slayed by public opinion

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The Independent Online
Germany's tone was triumphal yesterday, after the Brent Spar climbdown. The issues have throughout been treated as clear-cut, with no shades of grey. Shell's change of heart is seen as a German victory.

Shell Germany, too, which had suffered badly from a national boycott, greeted the decision with "relief". Peter Duncan, its New Zealand-born chief executive, said that he still believed the original decision to have been "fully in accord with the British and in particular the international conventions". But he noted that Shell UK's decision to back down reflected the fact that "the planned deep-sea disposal could not be forced through against the resistance of the population, and especially of the customers".

Mr Duncan said that the latest decision, to dispose of the rig on land, was "above all a reaction to the concerns and protests in Germany", and noted: "We have all been under very strong public pressure, in recent weeks." One filling station was burnt out in a firebombing.

The German media and public opinion have been almost unanimous in declaring that that sinking the oil platform in the Atlantic would be an unpardonable environmental crime. The arguments between land disposal, on the one hand, and marine disposal, on the other, have scarcely been heard.

The huge German boycott, which forced Shell to its knees, was supported by the overwhelming majority of the population - and by politicians from all the main political parties. Even the church weighed in, with a conference supporting the call for a boycott.

Theo Waigel, finance minister and leader of the conservative Bavarian CSU, yesterday declared that the decision was "sensible and, ecologically, the only acceptable solution".

The front page of Germany's biggest-selling daily, Bild, declared: "Victory!" In a leader, the newspaper concluded: "The decision is a personal victory for everybody who protested against the `like-it-or-lump-it' methods, with boycott, signatures or demonstrations".

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung headlined its editorial: "Victory for common sense." But it noted that some of the criticism in Germany "had less to do with environmental consciousness than with populism".

Chancellor Helmut Kohl personally raised the issue of Brent Spar with John Major, at the summit in Canada last weekend.

Other European reactions have been less enthusiastic than the Germans, about the high-profile campaign. The French daily, Le Monde, talked of "hypocrisy", when the Germans "made themselves moral judges of an oil multinational, whose products they have consumed with incomparable eagerness".