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Negotiations on France's controversial ecotax begin

A protester holding a safety flare during a protest against the ecotax in Brittany last weekend
A protester holding a safety flare during a protest against the ecotax in Brittany last weekend Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Negotiations between the French governments and leaders of protests against a green tax on road freight opened on Wednesday morning in the Breton capital, Rennes, with opponents demanding the ecotax be scrapped and ministers refusing to accept "ultimatums". Socialist senators have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the contract to collect the controversial tax.

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Leaders of the movement, which assembled thousands of opponents of the ecotax in Brittany, western France, on Saturday, demanded that it be scrapped for their region by midday Wednesday before going into talks with ministers and threatened new demonstrations if they do not get their way.

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But the minister responsible for the food-processing industry, Guillaume Garot, replied that "one cannot govern under an ultimatum".

After their deadline had expiredthe protest leaders said they would meet over the next few days to decide the next stage in their campaign.

The ecotax, a levy on trucks, was approved by the previous right-wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy but protests in western Brittany last month forced the current Socialist government to suspend it.

The consortium Ecomouv' has the contract to collect the levy but, although most of them voted for it when it came to parliament, the Socialists say the company is taking too big a cut - more than 20 per cent of revenue, a far higher share than is usual in government contracts with the private sector.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, who was ecology minister under Nicolas Sarkozy, has slammed the Socialists for questioning the tax now.

"If they had a better idea on how to levy such a complicated tax - because it's hard to levy a tax per kilometre - why didn't they say it at the time?," she declared in an interview with RFI. "I didn't launch the tender, I didn't sign the Ecomouv' contract but I'm defending it because I think this dance of people who were for the tax, who said: 'we need to tax trucks, we need to finance infrastructure by taxing trucks', but then don't hesitate to backtrack and say, 'it wasn't a good idea', I don't find that courageous."

Ecomouv' justifies its cut by pointing to the high cost of putting the tax into effect.

Its critics say that, according to the contract's terms, it will receive substantial compensation because the government has put off the implementation date, even though it would not have been ready to set the system into operation.

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