NEWS

Farmers fall back but EU verdict looms

Even as farmers lifted the few remaining road blockades yesterday after 11 days of protest action, the government faced fresh headaches with European Commission officials preparing to assess the legitimacy of a 500-million-euro aid package offered to Greek farmers. Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis said he would provide European Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel with the details of the aid package in the next few days. Next Wednesday the minister is due to travel to Brussels for a face-to-face meeting with Fischer Boel and other EU officials. If the government’s aid package is found to violate European Union limits for state aid, the government could face serious repercussions including cuts to the next scheduled tranche of EU funding. Emerging from a meeting with the president of the Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organization (ELGA), Nikos Katsaros, Hatzigakis said that no EU regulations had been violated and blamed opposition PASOK for «naively presenting Brussels with arguments against government policies.» EU officials, on their part, did not give any indication yesterday about the feasibility of the package, saying that they were waiting to receive the full details before drawing any conclusion. Meanwhile the government’s headaches on the ground appeared to be easing as the farmers’ united front crumbled and road blockades were lifted one after the other. Farmers withdrew from the key junctions of Tempe and Mikrothives in central Greece and even the most defiant protesters at Larissa and the border crossing with Bulgaria were beginning to waver by late yesterday. At Promachonas, the border crossing with Bulgaria, farmers had earlier yesterday lifted their blockade to allow around 200 trucks carrying perishable goods to cross into the neighboring country. Farmers were reportedly standing their ground at the junction of Nikaia in Larissa, cooking and sleeping in tents set up alongside their tractors. The Nikaia farmers said they were staying because the government’s measures «are not for everyone and do not include our products.» Producers in Crete too said they would not budge until the government had made more specific proposals relating to their products.