French President Nicolas Sarkozy´s intervention in Total SA´s plan to shut a refinery near the northern port of Dunkirk may have raised the cost of the closure for France´s largest company. The government´s bid to delay the plan until after regional elections next month backfired, as unions widened a strike across Total´s refineries and pushed France to the verge of fuel shortages this week. The government was concerned about the political fallout from the closure, which risked thelivelihoods of about 400 sub-contractors. "For electoral reasons, they tried to find a political solution to the situation but it spun out of control," Bruno Cautres, political analyst at Cevipof, a Paris-based research center, said in a telephone interview. "The government took a risk getting embroiled because their political agenda is not the same as Total´s agenda." Government efforts to manage the political consequences raised the stakes in the conflict, helping unions press their advantage and intensify the strikes. The week-long conflict brought Total´s crude processing to a near-halt and blocked deliveries to gas stations, sending French consumers rushing to fill their tanks on concern supplies would run out.
It forced Total to agree to an accord with unions on Feb. 24, giving guarantees not to sell or close other plants in France for five years — more than it may have had to concede before.
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