NEWS

Farmers refuse to engage with PASOK

A bid to reopen the lines of communication between the government and protesting farmers yesterday failed to get off the ground as members of the agricultural sector and representatives of New Democracy (ND) boycotted round-table discussions in Athens. Just a day after talks between Agricultural Development Minister Katerina Batzeli and farmers failed to result in any breakthrough, PASOK was dealt a further blow as its effort to establish common ground with the protesters, who have set up more than 20 roadblocks around Greece, ended in disappointment. Only a handful of younger farmers who are keeping a distance from the more traditional groupings took part in yesterday’s discussions. At the same time, several hundred farmers from central Greece protested outside the Zappeio Hall, where the meeting was being held, and then continued their gathering in Kolonaki Square. Batzeli reiterated that the government is not in a position to promise more handouts due to the budgetary constraints it faces. She also criticized ND representatives for walking out, saying that it was just a public relations gesture aimed at winning back the farmers the party lost in the last general election. The minister said the government wants to reform the agricultural sector, that the renegotiation of the terms of farmers’ bank loans would be examined in March, that imported meat would undergo inspections to ensure it is not labeled as Greek and that there would be an effort to close the gap between the prices producers sell at and retail prices. Thousands of farmers who did not make the trip to Athens responded to yesterday’s talks by reinforcing their roadblocks, such as the one at the Promahonas border crossing with Bulgaria. There appears to be little or no central coordination as to where roadblocks are set up and for how long. Each group of farmers seems to be deciding among themselves what action to take.