Bid to settle farmers’ dispute

With seamen back at work, coalition presents package to appease producers

A few hours after forcing striking seamen back to work, the government on Wednesday sought to tackle another protest front, presenting a package of concessions to angry farmers.

The proposal, presented during a meeting of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with his coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left’s Fotis Kouvelis, is aimed at appeasing farmers who have been threatening to block key road junctions unless they are given tax breaks and other concessions.

The initiative also appeared to be an effort by the government to present a united front at a time of mounting social and political upheaval.

After the meeting with Samaras, party leaders told reporters that the package was aimed at lightening the load on active farmers and offering incentives to young people considering joining the agricultural sector.

They added that talks on a unified property tax, which have fueled feverish speculation about whether property owners will be burdened with additional charges, had been suspended for the time being. Leaving the Maximos Mansion late on Wednesday, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras rebuffed the various scenarios in the media about the new property tax.

The farmers’ package foresees cheaper nighttime electricity rates from July, a 30-million-euro increase in the rebate of a special consumption tax on fuel, the swifter return of 300 million euros in value-added tax and the extension of an early retirement program for farmers over 65. There had been no official response by farmers to the package by late last night.

Meanwhile ferry services resumed after seamen returned to work, responding to the government’s decision to issue a civil mobilization order. Members of the Panhellenic Seamen’s Union (PNO) said unionists would resume action when draft legislation overhauling the coastal shipping sector is submitted in Parliament and would join a general strike on February 20.

Despite the concession by unionists, leftist opposition parties were vehement in their criticism of the government’s civil mobilization order. SYRIZA spoke of “a democracy under siege” while Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga remarked, “It was the government who put the gun to the heads of the seamen but the bullets were provided by shipowners, hoteliers and the owners of large tourism enterprises.”