Cotton showdown looming

The government seems to be adopting a hard line in the face of threats by farmers that they will close off a national highway by Jan. 20 unless demands that their surplus cotton be purchased are met, with New Democracy leaders warning them not to pursue this traditional tactic. «The partisan bullying of the type that says, ‘Either you give me everything or I will close the roads,’ which is a remnant of the time when we were in opposition, does not lead anywhere, does not produce any solutions and leads to dead ends instead,» said Vangelis Meimarakis, New Democracy’s secretary-general. ND had backed farmers in similar protests against the previous PASOK government when the conservatives were in opposition. However, Meimarakis added that if some of the people leading the current protest had showed the same amount of determination when the Socialists were in power, they would have toppled the government sooner. Cotton growers in the Thessaly prefectures of Larissa and Volos, led by some pro-government unionists, are threatening to close off the Athens-Thessaloniki national road if the government does not buy up an extra 35,000 to 50,000 tons of produce using subsidies from the European Union’s Agricultural Fund. The surplus cotton would cost between 23 and 30 million euros. However, the EU imposes strict quotas on production and it appears that Greece is about to meet its limit of 1,132,400 tons of cotton for the year 2004. The protesting farmers want the government to accept more of their cotton despite the fact that EU regulations mean that Greece would face automatic penalties for excess production. Until now, the present government has refused to give in to the farmers’ repeated demands.