NEWS

EC probes farmer cash

The European Commission said yesterday that it had launched an investigation into whether 425 million euros paid out to farmers in 2008 and 2009 as compensation for damages actually constituted state subsidies, which would violate European common market regulations. In a statement yesterday, the EC gave the government a month to provide more details about the payouts made by the Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organization (ELGA), which oversees the compensation to farmers. «It cannot be ruled out that the compensation paid by ELGA in 2008 and 2009 under the compulsory insurance scheme constitutes state aid,» the statement said. If it transpires that theses payments were state subsidies, the government will be obliged to recover the 425 million euros from farmers or face the European Court. Such a move seemed inconceivable yesterday as hundreds of farmers maintained 28 roadblocks across the country, pressing their demands for the release of subsidies. Successive meetings yesterday between Agriculture Minister Katerina Batzeli and various groups of farmers ended in deadlock as she stressed the government’s inability to make immediate cash payments. Meanwhile, talks aimed at establishing a central committee to coordinate the various groups of farmers that have set up roadblocks across the country reportedly stalled. According to sources, there were various reasons for the deadlock, including conflicting political affiliations and disagreements between young farmers and older producers with more traditional beliefs. The intention had been for representatives of a central committee to sit down with Batzeli for more talks aimed at lifting the farmers’ 13-day action. The attempt by farmers at the Promachonas crossing with Bulgaria to extend their action by parking their tractors on the tracks of a cross-border railway route nearly ended in disaster yesterday. The local station master on the Greek side of the border warned farmers to withdraw five tractors from the tracks just a few minutes before a Bulgarian freight train en route to Thessaloniki traversed the spot.