EU wants more farm aid details

The 500 million euros in compensation and loans that have been promised to Greek farmers will be given to them, Agricultural Minister Sotiris Hatzigakis insisted yesterday after meeting with European Union officials, even though the Brussels bureaucrats asked for more details before rubber-stamping the aid package. Hatzigakis met with European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel to explain how the government plans to distribute the money to the farmers following some two weeks of protests in Greece. Hatzigakis told Boel that 425 million euros would be paid through the Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organization (ELGA) as compensation for crops that were lost to bad weather in 2008. The remaining money would be made available as state loans, sources said. «We are talking about compensation due to bad weather conditions, in line with the ELGA regulations, which have been approved by the EU,» said Hatzigakis after the meeting. «This policy is carried out in all member states.» The minister said that the money would be paid to the farmers «as soon as possible.» However, Boel said that the Commission had asked for a more detailed presentation of the government’s plan in order to determine whether the aid constitutes a state subsidy, in which case it may contravene EU legislation. The commissioner did not indicate how long it might take for a final decision to be made. Hatzigakis also issued a statement denying that he had left for Brussels on Monday to avoid meeting with angry farmers from Crete. He said he had flown to the Belgian capital to prepare for yesterday’s meeting. More than 1,000 Cretan farmers who spent the last two days blocked in by riot police at Piraeus port returned to the island yesterday and were given a hero’s welcome. The farmers then demanded the resignation of Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis, who is responsible for public order issues. The farmers blame Markoyiannakis, who is from Crete, for riot police firing tear gas and preventing them from reaching Athens with their tractors. Farmers from northern Greece continued their blockade of the Promachonas border crossing yesterday but allowed more vehicles through than on previous days.