NEWS

Gov’t applies for EU consent on aid package

Farmers retreated from most of the remaining roadblocks in central Greece yesterday, though protesters maintained blockades at the border with Bulgaria, resulting in long traffic jams in both directions. Meanwhile, the government was preparing a crucial «application» it must make to Brussels so that European Union officials can assess the legitimacy of a 500-million-euro aid package extended to farmers by the government. Agricultural Development Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis said of his scheduled meeting with the competent European commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, next Wednesday that it had «not been organized out of any obligation but because of the special role of the European Union.» Meanwhile, sources in Brussels told Kathimerini that the main query on the lips of EU bureaucrats is how the government could afford to offer such a generous package to farmers. It is thought that some, if not all, of the aid package might be presented to the European Commission by Greece as compensation for farmers who suffered losses in fires and floods over the past two years. Still, the same sources tell Kathimerini that some EU officials fear Greece’s application might prompt of flood of similar requests from other member states, thus contravening the basic tenets of the union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Back in Athens, a flurry of meetings between government officials and unionists led to several more blockades being lifted yesterday in the prefectures of Viotia and Fthiotida. Some blockades in the northern prefecture of Serres were also lifted but farmers blocking the Promachonas crossing at the Bulgarian border stood their ground, despite reports on Thursday that they were beginning to withdraw. Dozens of trucks were stranded on the Greek side of the border and more than 100 on the Bulgarian end for several hours. The 12-day border closure has seriously disrupted cross-border deliveries in both directions, prompting Bulgaria to lodge an official complaint with the EU. Yesterday farmers temporarily backed their tractors off the road to allow around 200 trucks to cross the border from either side. Blockades also remained in place in Nikaia, Thessaly, as some reports indicated that farmers who had left the junctions of Mikrothives and Tempe had joined the Nikaia protest. Diehard protesters also stood their ground in the Cretan prefecture of Hania.