Fuel crisis: Italy braces for delays as truck deliveries suspended from Monday

Italy’s road haulage companies said they will suspend services across the country from Monday, March 14th, due to the recent “explosion” in fuel costs.

Fuel crisis: Italy braces for delays as truck deliveries suspended from Monday
Trucks on a motorway near Rome during a previous nationwide strike against high fuel prices in 2007. Haulage companies are suspending work and organising protests this week over the recent surge in fuel costs. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Italian haulage industry union Trasportiunito said that the planned action was not a strike, but an “inevitable” suspension of services due to “force majeure” – namely the soaring cost of fuel, according to Italian media reports.

In a letter sent to the government this week, the union said it was coordinating action taken by hauliers who “are no longer able to guarantee contractual obligations” due to fuel prices, reported Italy’s Ansa news agency.

Petrol and gas prices have skyrocketed across Europe since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including in Italy.

READ ALSO: Italy announces plan to end reliance on Russian gas by 2025

It is not known how long the suspension might last, but industry associations warned of price rises if the government did not intervene to slash the cost of fuel.

Consumer watchdog Codacons told Ansa the hauliers’ actions would lead to a “surge” in retail prices that would cause further difficulties for households already struggling with the soaring cost of energy.

“The road transport block will have direct effects on the community, suspending the supply of goods to the commercial sector and leading to a surge in retail prices in shops and supermarkets,” said Codacons president Carlo Rienzi.

He said this was “an inevitable consequence, considering that 85 percent of goods sold in Italy are transported by road”.

Rienzi said it was “not clear what the government was waiting for”, calling for it to “immediately cancel VAT on petrol and diesel and reduce excise duties”.

Luigi Barone, of the Italian Federation of Organisations for Consortia and Industrialisation (FICEI), told Euronews on Friday that haulage was among the “numerous energy-intensive companies” that “have slowed down their production due to the disproportionate increase in energy costs.”

“It is clear that the higher costs, unfortunately, will filter to the consumer who will find it a double drain: the doubling of bills will increase the cost of numerous foodstuffs on the shelves,” he said.

Truck drivers are also planning to hold demonstrations around the country on Saturday, March 19th.

Though the demonstrations and stoppages are expected to cause price rises, Italy’s supermarket bosses insisted that there is no immediate threat to supply chains after rumours of a transport blockade of ports in Sardinia reportedly prompted panic-buying on the island this week. 

Unions meanwhile stressed that reports of a planned blockade in Sardinia were untrue, saying such a measure would be illegal.

“Blocking basic necessities is a crime, it is not possible to deprive the population of primary goods,” the general secretary of trade union Filt-Cgil, Arnaldo Boeddu, told newspaper Il Messaggero.

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How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy's government has repeatedly said it plans to end its dependence on Russia for gas supplies following the invasion of Ukraine. But as the timeline keeps changing, when and how could this happen?

How long will it take Italy to wean itself off Russian gas?

Italy is heavily dependent on Russian gas, but has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as part of an effort to end this reliance in the coming years.

But it remains unclear whether Italy can really end its dependence on Russia for its gas supply – or when this might be feasible.

READ ALSO: What does Italy’s Algerian gas deal mean for energy supplies?

The government has been seeking new sources since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including with a recent deal to boost supplies from Algeria.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week the country could be independent of Russian gas by the second half of 2024 – the latest in a series of changing estimates.

“Government estimates indicate that we can make ourselves independent from Russian gas in the second half of 2024,” Draghi told the Senate, while adding that the “first effects” of this plan would be felt by the end of this year.

He said his government was also seeking to boost its production of renewable energy, including by “destroying bureaucratic barriers” to investment, saying it was the “only way” to free Italy from having to import fossil fuels.

Explained: Why and how Italy will pay for Russian gas in rubles

In April, Italy‘s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani estimated the country would no longer need Russian gas within 18 months, following an earlier prediction that it could take until 2025.

Italy is one of Europe’s biggest users and importers of natural gas, importing 90 percent of its gas supply with 45 percent of that coming from Russia – up from 27 percent ten years ago.

Italy now imports 29 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year, which Cingolani said in March “must be replaced” – but he didn’t specify with what.

Analysts have said there are “a lot of questions” about how helpful Italy’s gas deal with Algeria will be.

Despite its vast natural gas reserves, Algeria is already exporting at close to full capacity.

Draghi repeated his strong support for EU sanctions on Moscow last week, including a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil, although this is currently being blocked by Hungary.

“We must continue to keep up the pressure on Russia through sanctions, because we must bring Moscow to the negotiating table,” he said.

But for now, Italian energy giant Eni says it plans to pay for Russian gas supplies in rubles, meeting a demand from Vladimir Putin.

It was not immediately clear whether the plan would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.