The Irish are lining up like Californians to buy gasoline. Greeks have to take turns for weekend pleasure driving and most 24 hour calling stations in central London are closing at midnight these days.
Little signs of an energy pinch are visible all over Europe and governments are dusting off rationing plans across the continent. But despite warnings that harder times are coming there is nothing approaching crisis in the spring air and most Western Europeans seem so far to be acting as if, they expect no really serious problems from the world energy shortage.
Many in fact often express bemusement that Americans seem finally to have discovered that there is a shortage at all import-dependent Europeans have been dealing with the crisis [WORD ILLEGIBLE] since the stranglehold of oil exporting countries first was dramatized by the Arab oil embargo [WORD ILLEGIBLE] 1973.
There is no question that Europeans and Japanese, who run the world's other main center of noncommunist industrial power, are far more conservation conscious than Americans. For despite their complaints. U.S. families still enjoy cheap gasoline, cheap electricity and cheap natural gas compared to prices in most other countries.
No one can say whether Americans would consume less if there were an attempt to push U.S. prices toward the level the rest of the world pays. But analysts here presume there would be at least some savings that way.
With gasoline still at an average of about 75 cents a gallon in the United States it is $160 in Britain, $2.05 in West Germany and $2.50 in France.
High-priced gasoline does not seem to prevent Europeans from crowding the highways in summer.But it does seen to make them more careful, even though they drive far smaller cars that get far better gasoline mileage than Americans do.
In France, by government decree, apartment building and private homes have been getting 15 percent less heating fuel every winter than the winter before for each of the past three years. The Parisians wear more sweaters than New Yorkers.
As a result of that and other measures, annual French oil imports have held steady at about 2 million barrels a day since 1973 and have even declined slightly. During the same period Americans have increased their dependency on imports from 20 percent to 45 percent.
Some Europeans say this explains why Americans seem more anxious now than Europeans. The Europeans already have been through a severe crisis in 1973 [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]
Except for Ireland, European countries have deliberately held down economic growth, is large part ot deal with the need to keep the oil import bill down. Ireland's insistence on an economic growth of 4 to 5 percent a year diverted a large portion of its avaliable petroleum to industry, which helps explain why Irish motorists are the first in Europe not to get enough.
Just as in California small short ages produced a panic and snowballed into big shortages as people rushed out to fill up.
Most countries in the Paris based International Energy Agency have introduced new conservation measures since a 5 percent reduction in consumption was decided in early March to counteract the shortage growing from a drastic drop in Iranian exports. In addition, West Germans and Swiss are relying on higher prices and public campaigns to do the job for now. The Italians say they are too involved in election to have decided anything yet.
The Dutch have simply asked oil supply companies to deliver 5 percent less across the board than last year to their customers. Sweden has asked the suppliers to deliver 10 to 20 percent of office lighting by a third and of the operation of elevators and escalators by 20 percent.
Other voluntary measures in Japan include stopping television broadcasting earlier and closing gasoline stations on Sundays and holidays.
In Greece, cars with odd-numbered license plates will be allowed on the road one weekend in two, and even-numbered license plates the alternate weekend.
As in many other countries, neon signs and shop windows are to be turned off earler and 50-mile-an-hour speed limits are being introduced. Most of the measures have a familiar ring - they were already tried out during the 10731/4 oil crisis. Since then, there has also been a heavy trend all over Europe to convert power generating staticus from oil to coal wherever possible.
Standby rationing is fairly standard in Europe now. In France, it is based on a 1945 decree, issued after the German occupation. In Switzerland, it is part of the government's standing emergency powers in place for decades.West Germany is printing rationing books, even though Bonn officials have issued assurances that there will be no rationing. A British Energy Department spokesman said that the rationing coupons printed up but never used in 1974 were destroyed, but that they are now being reprinted.
A main culprit in the current U.S. shortage especially in California, European oil executives and energy officials say, is the American environmental requirement for unleaded gasoline. It takes 7 to 10 percent more out of a barrel of crude oil to make unleaded gasoline than gasoline with lead and other powerr additives, oil men say. Unleaded gasoline must be higher octane to provide the same power.
No European countries have followed the U.S. example of producing unleaded gasoline.
Some Europeans, notably the French, are suggesting that the oil crisis is artificial, created by the Americans, anyhow.
Albin Chalandon, head of the French said oil company. Elf Aquitaine, said in a newspaper interview this week: "This shortage certainly stems from a political strategy."
He did not really explain what he meant, but other French officials speaking privately pointed fingers at the U.S. government and U.S. oil companies.
The U.S. government is accused of not having considered the consequences when it insisted on the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty without taking into consideration the concerns of Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil exporter. The French note that the Saudi decision to place a ceiling on production at 8.5 million barrels below Saudi production capacity - coincided with the peace accord.
As for the U.S. companies the French say they intend to raise the question at a meeting of the European Common Market energy ministers next week whether American multinational oil corporations are deliberately creating a shortage by building their winter-depleted stocks too rapidly.
The French say they are not making the accusation, only raising the question. But some act as if they know the answer already.
U.S. Energy Secretary James Schlesinger is said by government and industry sources in Europe to be pressuring the American companies to rebuild stocks of home heating oil rather than maximize more profitable production of gasoline.
The French say also they intend to ask for reorganization of the Rotterdam spot oil market to prevent speculation. Their idea is that there should be a sort of U.S. style Securities Exchange Commission to regulate the European market for petroleum that is not already committed in long-term contracts at fixed or regulated prices.
Only a small proportion of the world's oil actually is traded on spotmarkets. But the spot prices are sometimes so wildly out of line with official ones that oil-producing countries can point to them to force renegotiation of prices already established under contracts.
Schlesinger gets high marks all over Europe for leaning on U.S. oil companies to resist the temptation to pay high spot prices for the extra amounts they need.
At the International Energy Agency here, which groups all major noncommunist oil-consuming industrialized nations except France, there is a recognition that Europeans generally have more reason to be pleased with themselves for their ability to limit petroleum consumption than Americans. But there is concern that there may not be enough heating oil in the world to get it through next winter without people going cold.
At the agency and in British oil industry circle there is a tendency to explain the gasoline shortages that are cropping up by a conscious and laudable decision, especially in the United States, to extract from any given barrel of crude moreheating oil and less gasoline.