Hollande Vows to Freeze Fuel Prices as French Gas at Record

Francois Hollande, the French Socialist presidential candidate, pledged to freeze record fuel prices for three months if elected to ease the burden of higher energy costs on consumers.

“Our system brings more money to the state every time prices rise,” Hollande said today in an interview on RTL radio. “How can we accept this?”

A three-month freeze on fuel prices at the pump would give the government time to introduce measures to cut taxes when prices for refined fuel products rise, he said.

France scrapped a similar system known as “floating” fuel taxes in 2002. It was designed to steady prices for consumers by varying fuel tax rates. The price of gasoline at French pumps reached a record last week, according to data published today on the website of the refiners’ group.

Gasoline, which represents about 15 percent of the French fuel market, reached 1.609 euros a liter on Feb. 24, according to the Union Francaise des Industries Petrolieres. Diesel, which has 80 percent of the market, cost 1.441 euros a liter, about one centime below the record 1.454 euros a liter reached May 30, 2008, it said.

Hollande also promised to maintain a ban on shale exploration until it can be proven this can be done “without consequences for the environment.”

“We won’t go looking for resources that would alter the state of the environment,” he said. “We can’t put in danger the safety of our citizens and the quality of water they drink.”

France last year banned a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, needed to extract fuel from shale rock.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has narrowed the gap with Hollande, according to an Ipsos SA poll for Le Monde and France Televisions published Feb. 28. Sarkozy trails by 4.5 points in voting intentions, down from a seven-point gap a week earlier, the poll showed. The vote will be held in two rounds on April 22 and May 6.

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