The French government has suspended the “green” tax on lorries which provoked violent demonstrations in Brittany last weekend.
The so-called ecotaxe, devised by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was part of the same pan-European flurry of climate-protecting legislation as the green levies on energy bills which are to be scaled back in Britain.
From the new year, both French and foreign lorries were due to pay up to €0.20 a kilometre (17p) to use non-toll roads in France. Breton farmers and food industry workers have staged a series of protests against the tax, culminating in violent clashes with police last Saturday.
The Bretons complained the charge on lorries – despite a 30 per cent reduction for far-flung areas – would destroy what remains of the region’s struggling food-processing industry. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, told a delegation of Breton politicians in Paris that the tax would be suspended and revised but not entirely abandoned.
“Confrontation must give way to dialogue,” Mr Ayrault said. “Courage is not obstinacy. Courage is to listen... and to search solutions which will avoid a spiral of violence.”
With President François Hollande’s popularity slipping in a recent poll to 26 per cent, the government could not afford to alienate a traditionally left-leaning region.
The suspension of the tax will also deepen tensions in the socialist-green coalition government. Green politicians complain that environment-protecting legislation should not be sacrificed for short-term economic problems.