European Union finance ministers revived plans for a fifteen nation energy tax, while promising exemptions for truckers, businesses and households that would be hit hardest. The proposal may come under attack from consumers, who already pay some of the world's highest prices at the pump. Thanks to existing taxes, gasoline costs $4 a gallon or more in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, three times the rate paid in the US. To win support for an EU wide tax, the ministers promised exemptions that EU Financial Services Commissioner Frits Bolkestein criticized as “like a Gruyere cheese, yes, there's some cheese, but there are a lot of holes.” Spain, which has blocked an EU wide tax since 1997 to shield companies such as Repsol YPF, the largest Spanish oil group, agreed to consider the measure as long as the EU breaks down barriers to the international expansion of its utilities.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969