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Fuel shortage: requisition in refineries, instructions for use

The government finally followed through on its threats.

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Fuel shortage: requisition in refineries, instructions for use

The government finally followed through on its threats. While the executive has been raising the specter of a requisition of personnel in recent hours to unblock the tense situation of refineries - more than 31% of service stations are in difficulty at the national level -, these were launched this Wednesday morning at the Esso-ExxonMobil depot in Gravenchon Port Jérôme, in the Seine-Maritime department. The decision was announced Tuesday evening by Elisabeth Borne in the Hemicycle and will be based on prefectural decrees taken with regard to article L2215-1 of the General Code of Local Authorities.

This provides that in "an emergency, when the observed or foreseeable breach of good order, health, tranquility and public security so requires and the means available to the prefect no longer allow to pursue the objectives for which it holds police powers, the latter may, by reasoned decree, for all the communes of the department or several or only one of them, requisition any property or service, require any person necessary for the operation of this service or for the use of this property and prescribe any useful measure until the breach of public order has ended or the conditions for its maintenance have been ensured".

The decrees were ready by Tuesday evening. But the government preferred to delay for a few hours, because the delivery activity in Port Jérôme had resumed yesterday afternoon, at 2 p.m., as the Ministry of Energy Transition points out. Alas, this activity was again disrupted at 10 p.m. on Tuesday evening, then this Wednesday from 6 a.m. Also, the decrees will come into force during the day. According to the time of notification, "the requisition can take effect today", we continue on the side of the executive.

In very concrete terms, these requisitions allow the police to go to the homes of the requisitioned employees to accompany them to the site of the refinery depots. The Local Authorities Code also provides that "the refusal to carry out the measures prescribed by the requesting authority constitutes an offense which is punishable by six months' imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 euros".

For the moment, these decrees concern the depots of the most urgent refineries to be put back into service to supply petrol stations. The Ministry of Transition insists: it is enough "a small number of employees, essential to ensure a minimum service of shipments". In reality, the government is walking on a ridge line at the legal level. The requisition, rarely used, is also very framed, explains to L'Express Eric Rocheblave, lawyer specializing in labor law at the bar of Montpellier. If its legality can be justified in view of the current unrest, the question of the proportionality of the decrees which will be taken will not fail to be subject to debate.

"These requisitioning devices are not intended to return the current situation to normal. Under no circumstances can the prefects requisition all the staff, as this would taint the constitutionally guaranteed right to strike", explains the lawyer. "That's where the problem lies. The requisitions are used to ensure a minimum service, for relief professions such as firefighters, nurses, or law enforcement services such as the police or the gendarmerie. It is not a question of not to ensure that ordinary citizens can have their essence." And the latter to recall that in 2010, during the demonstration against pensions under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, the prefect of Seine-et-Marne was dismissed by the administrative court of Melun after having ordered the requisition of the "quasi -all" employees of the Grandpuits refinery, in the department.

In other words, it is unlikely that these requisitions will change the situation and the difficulties encountered by motorists in the very short term. If 30% of stations are in difficulty at the national level, the situation is even more tense in Hauts-de-France, where 44.8% of service stations are concerned, and in Ile-de-France with 44% of stations concerned, ie 10 points more than yesterday. Six of the seven refineries in the metropolis are on strike this Wednesday. And if the restart of activities on the depots can be quite fast, the own fuel production activity in these industrial sites cannot be relaunched in less than two weeks, explain the trade unionists.

It remains to be seen whether the government will go further than the requisitions – for the moment limited to Esso-ExxonMobil refinery depots – by extending them to those of TotalEnergies or to its own refining activities. With, obviously, a strong political risk given the convictions of the CGT to the requisition device announced Tuesday evening. "Should the law on requisitions be changed? The path seems very narrow to me, given the guaranteed constitutionality of the right to strike", confides Eric Rocheblave again. This Wednesday morning at Place Beauvau, an interministerial crisis unit will in any case bring together members of all the cabinets and administrations concerned.

In any event, government spokesman Olivier Véran announced on Wednesday that other requisitions were to be expected if the blockages continued. "We remain extremely vigilant. If by chance the blockages persist, we do not rule out resorting under the same conditions as Port-Jérôme to requisitions and therefore to a rapid release in order to obtain a return to normal".

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