NEWS

Gov’t hopes to avoid face-off with farmers as lenders say more needed on sell-offs

gov-t-hopes-to-avoid-face-off-with-farmers-as-lenders-say-more-needed-on-sell-offs

The government is hoping that it will be able to convince protesting farmers, who are planning to demonstrate in Athens on Friday, to negotiate over their objections to tax and pension reform proposals.

At the same time, a high-ranking European Union official has said that the “quality rather than speed” of the first bailout review is most important and that the Greek government will have to make further efforts in setting up a new privatization fund.

Farmers are threatening to drive their tractors into Athens as part of their protests against increases to their tax and social security contributions. However, the coalition appears to be expecting the traffic police to step in to prevent the tractors reaching the capital.

“There are laws and rules in this country,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili. “If I drove my car on a pavement, I believe the traffic police would stop me and force me [back onto the road].

“There are also rules about what vehicles can enter the center of Athens,” she added. “I think it is the traffic police’s job to see what it is going to do on this issue.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to extend another invitation to farmers to discuss their grievances with the government. They have so far rejected calls for negotiations.

Speaking in Brussels, the EU official highlighted that, for Greece’s lenders, creating a new privatization fund and giving it ownership of more than the nine state assets the government has proposed so far is as important as the tax and pension reforms over which the coalition is at odds with the farmers.

“This is something that they do not understand or do not want to understand in Athens,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

He said that no decisions will be taken at Thursday’s Eurogroup and that there is no date yet for when the institutions’ mission chiefs will return to Greece to continue the review. He added that Greece and its lenders are moving closer together on pension reform but that there are still differences that need to be resolved.