Kinnock urges French to repay truckers

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The Independent Online
Neil Kinnock, the EU transport commissioner, yesterday called on the French to compensate hauliers caught up in the two-day blockade of Channel ports, while British ferry companies are threatening to enforce fines of up to 150,000 francs on the fishermen involved.

In Brussels, Mr Kinnock accused the French of reneging on their promise to pay compensation to victims of last year's French lorry drivers strike.

In a letter to French transport minister Bernard Pons, Mr Kinnock complained that many road haulage companies from neighbouring countries had suffered "significant" damages because of the blockade. He demanded that similar levels of compensation to those promised during the truckers dispute be applied this time.

Mr Kinnock's office has been inundated with complaints from companies who say their claims have still not been dealt with. Brussels does not have the power to order compensation be paid and can only exert moral pressure on the French.

Mr Kinnock admitted he was still waiting for Paris to submit a report detailing the number of claims it had dealt with to date, but said French sovereignty had to be respected. "Obviously it is frustrating for me not to be able to intervene directly, but the people who are calling for that would be the first to express their outrage if Brussels intervened in a dispute in their country."

The ferry companies affected by the dispute were considering their options yesterday. A spokesman for Stena Line said Stena, P&O, and SeaFrance were all granted injunctions against the fishermen involved in the blockades and were entitled to ask the French courts to impose fines of up to 150,000 francs on each boat. However, the spokesman said it was unlikely they would seek to enforce the fines available through the injunction for the sake of diplomacy. "We don't want to inflame the situation by pursuing these fines, and losing customers. We have decided not to ask the courts to invoke the injunctions which last for one month.

"By not invoking the injunctions, we can give ourselves the option of waiting for a month to see what the fishermen do. Depending on what they do will depend on whether we invoke the injunction."

A spokeswoman for P&O said: "We would only consider this action provided we were given assurances that the port of Calais remained open and free from further blockades."

The Stena spokesman made it clear that it would have to invoke the injunctions if the fishermen decided to blockade the ports again. "I think the danger of not pursuing the fines means that any future injunctions against more blockades lose force. If we seek an injunction and then fail to follow it up then it really negates that course of action in the future."

Under the terms of the injunction, each boat can be fined 10,000 francs per hour for every hour it remains in the blockade after the injunction is served. The French fishermen were served the injunction at 7pm on Wednesday, but did not leave until 10am yesterday.

Meanwhile, the EU fisheries spokesman Filippo di Robilant said it was up to the French to seek a review of the controversial rules on fishing- net sizes which triggered the blockade. Paris had not asked for the regulation, designed to conserve fish, to be amended and it would in any case have to persuade a majority of its EU partners if the legislation was to be changed.

Mr Di Robilant said Brussels would oppose a revision of the law due to come into effect in January because conservation was vital. The blockade, he said, provided further "clear evidence that there are too many fishermen chasing too few fish".

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