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Europe plots emergency rationing of British oil

Eben Black, Chief Political Correspondent

BRITAIN'S oil reserves could be taken over by the European Union in times of international energy shortage under draft legislation being drawn up in Brussels.

According to leaked EU documents, Britain's oil-producing status could be exploited for the benefit of Europe as a whole. It means that instead of being able to sell British oil on the open market, firms such as BP, one of the world's leading fuel retailers, would be required to divert supplies into a central pool to help countries such as Greece and Portugal if they are experiencing supply problems.

As the only oil-producing nation within the EU, Britain is seen as the potential saviour of Europe if there is another fuel crisis similar to that in the 1970s, when petrol prices quadrupled overnight after the Opec nations, led by Saudi Arabia, increased the price of crude oil.

The legislation proposed by the European commission says that reserves held by member states must be brought into the "community framework" and should in an emergency be distributed throughout the European Union to ensure that supplies are equally shared.

The draft says that there should be "a plan which will enable petroleum stocks to be communitarised within a short space of time".

The plan calls on member states to "maintain minimum stocks of crude oil and of petroleum products so that where necessary oil reserves may be released in the event of a price crisis".

Last night Tony Blair was under pressure to fight the European proposals, which are likely to be discussed further before the general election, expected to be on June 7.

Francis Maude, the shadow foreign secretary, accused the EU of attempting a "smash and grab raid" against Britain's assets. He said: "This measure is a naked power grab to utilise Britain's oil reserves and sends a powerful signal that the EU's ambitions to transform itself into a superstate are alive and well.

"Tony Blair and Robin Cook don't want to talk about the superstate agenda. In private they are content to go along with it. Why else would they say nothing when the EU believes that tax cuts are not fully compatible with European law?"

He added: "The EU has an important role to play, but harmonising Britain's oil reserves is not one of them."

-- Martin Thompson (, April 09, 2001

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