Germany united against Shell and the British

Steve Crawshaw in Bonn on a nation in radical mood over protecting the sea
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The Independent Online
The firebombing yesterday of a Shell filling station in Hamburg was the most dramatic incident so far in the German protest against Shell's plan to sink the Brent Spar oil platform at sea, with Greenpeace quick to dissociate itself from the violence. The attack, in the early hours, was presumed to be the work of Germany's radical left-wing fringe: violence against police and property have become an occasional ritual, especially in Hamburg and Berlin.

Even without yesterday's attack, however, the national anger against Shell has been much more widespread in Germany than anywhere else in Europe.

Condemnation of Shell has become more or less obligatory for politicians on all sides. Chancellor Helmut Kohl said that he would raise the matter with John Major at the economic summit in Halifax, Canada. The German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel declared in Germany's biggest-selling daily, Bild: "The sea is not a rubbish bin!" Theo Waigel, the finance minister, said Shell would be "well advised" to reverse its decision. Even Rudolf Scharping, the German opposition leader, who rarely takes a clear position on anything, said: "The protection of the sea must finally be taken seriously."

Acres of space have been devoted in the German media to the perceived outrages of Shell and of Britain's failure to oppose the move.

Yesterday's attack was not the first act of violence: shots were fired at a filling station south of Frankfurt early on Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, there is near unanimity throughout Germany on the iniquity of letting the sinking of Brent Spar go ahead. Shell filling stations are deserted following a boycott which - according to one poll - 85 per cent of Germans support. Die Woche found nobody (apart from Shell's chairman) who was unreservedly opposed to the boycott.

Shell Germany has, in effect, acknowledged defeat. It has stopped running a series of eco-friendly advertisements (catchline: "We want to change things"), because it is so obviously a hopeless battle, in the present circumstances.

Even Shell has tried to distance itself from Shell. Shell Germany says: "We have no influence on Shell UK." Nor has there has been much hint in German coverage of the ambiguities that have emerged in the UK - for example, the possibility that disposal on land might have as many disadvantages as disposal at sea. Instead, it is implied that the issues are clear- cut.

To quote Mr Kinkel: "Germany spends a lot on protecting the North Sea. But other states must also fulfil their obligations." Or, as one reader's letter in Bild yesterday suggested: "Throw Britain out of the EU!"

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