Where to find Europe's cheapest petrol? Greenland.
by Slim Allagui
ILULISSAT (AFP) - At a small petrol station dating from the 1960s in Greenland, SUVs queue to fill up with the cheapest gas in Europe, at just 3.77 kroner a litre or 50 euro cents (78 US cents).
The low price is not an advertising coup nor public relations campaign, just the regular price for petrol in Greenland, the biggest island in the world with only 57,000 inhabitants.
"And I find the price a little expensive," says Julius Saldgreen, 49, at the wheel of his jeep after picking up his two daughters at school.
By comparison, a litre of unleaded 95 cost 1.52 euros in France and 1.49 euros in Germany last week, while diesel went for 1.45 and 1.48 euros, respectively.
At the other end of the scale, Americans are reeling at the thought of paying almost 4.0 dollars a gallon or 0.68 euro cents a litre.
In Greenland, a Danish autonomous territory since 1979, the local government has long had a retail monopoly on energy, offering generous tax rebates on super unleaded, diesel and heating fuel.
"We do it to help hunters and fishermen in particular, since they have low incomes and the living conditions in the Arctic are tough, with long and very rigorous winters," the head of the local government, Hans Enoksen, told AFP.
In order to maintain low prices even in the most remote parts of the island, the local government has signed long-term contracts for stable charges with the oil companies and stocked enormous quantities of petrol in reservoirs that dot the entire coast.
Price display for fuel is seen at a gas station in Ilulissat©AFP/File Slim Allagui
A "wise approach" hailed by the islanders, according to Saldgreen.
But some are nonetheless unhappy, such as Jan, one of 30 taxi drivers in the western town of Ilulissat who finds "the petrol price too high lately."
His colleague Per disagrees, saying the price at the pump is reasonable.
"But it can't hit five kroner like it did a few years ago, which led to protests from the fishermen who blocked Royal Greenland's fish processing and packaging factory in order to push for higher fish prices, the only way to counter the high diesel price," he explains.
"A rise in petrol prices would lead to higher transport costs and higher inflation. That would penalise consumers and especially the fishermen and hunters, who are already affected by the global warming that is threatening their livelihoods," Per says.
In Ilulissat, a town inscribed on UNESCO's world heritage list, the colourful boats belonging to the halibut and shrimp fishermen are docked in the port.
The fishermen, like everyone else, pay the same low price for diesel as for petrol and heating fuel.
"Otherwise we would have a hard time making ends meet since global warming is causing the Ilulissat glacier to recede," says Knud Kruse, a 41-year-old fisherman who has trawled Greenland's waters since the age of 19.
The glacier is one of the most active in the world, with icebergs breaking off into thousands of pieces into the fjord, "making it hard for us to navigate and lay out our lines," he says.
"I think our leaders understand that we need cheap fuel otherwise there would be no more fishing and this has been the islanders' way of life since the beginning of time," he says.
"When we get paid 6.25 kroner (90 euro cents) a kilo (2.2 pounds) for halibut, the slightest increase in diesel prices hits us full-on."