BRUSSELS, June 19, 2008 (AFP) – Soaring fuel and food prices posed a stiff challenge to EU leaders gathered for a summit in Brussels on Thursday, amid clear divisions over how to respond to growing calls for intervention. Following Irish voters’ rejection of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty last week, EU leaders are eager to demonstrate that the bloc can tackle the toughest issues and has not slumped back into a period of painful navel-gazing.
With record crude oil prices nudging 140 dollars a barrel, Europe has seen waves of protests against the soaring cost of fuel in recent weeks, led by increasingly militant fishermen, farmers and truckers.
At the same time, consumers have seen their purchasing power also pinched by the rise in food prices, which increased 6.4 percent in May over one year in the 15 countries sharing the euro.
Ahead of the summit in Brussels, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called on the EU to consider capping value-added tax on oil to provide some consumer relief.
However even before the meeting opened the proposal ran into resistance from some of his partners as well as the European Commission, which has warned that it would send the wrong signal to oil-producing nations.