OPINION

An absurd situation

The problem with cotton production in Greece is an increasingly urgent one and Greek politicians must be held responsible for their failure to resolve it. Indeed, the cotton debate has become a highly complex issue. It has highlighted the anti-productive mechanisms in the Greek economy, and the corresponding societal attitudes and behavior that these give rise to. Encouraged, for years now, by political parties that dare not oppose trade unions representing farmers, cotton producers refuse to accept the actual state of affairs and persist in demanding state subsidies for producing an extremely expensive surplus product. Lavish, and essentially unrestricted, cultivation of large, unsuitable tracts of land has led to the harvesting of a product that is low in quality and does not meet the necessary specifications. It has also caused significant damage to the water table and hindered the vital modernization of a large section of Greek agriculture. Although unionists know that the abolition of subsidies in a few years’ time will lead farmers to a desperate impasse, the producers themselves have not taken the initiative in cultivating new products. Instead, they prefer to remain rooted in a «tradition» which now constitutes a major social and economic problem. Blackmailed by spectacular strike action that paralyzes the national road network and fearful of losing valuable votes from agricultural regions, political leaders are accustomed to giving in to the demands of cotton producers. But by doing so they maintain an unacceptable, and unhealthy, situation where production – real or fictitious – exceeds the agreed quota and producers demand full subsidies for the extra amount, thus burdening the public purse. The major question is whether and when there will be an end to this state of affairs. This absurd situation not only wastes public finances, it also tarnishes the image of our politicians and some producers who would like to be delivered from the grasp of the self-appointed political guardians of farmers’ interests and to concentrate on modernizing production. The government’s stance in the ongoing cotton dispute will be decisive this time round. If it gives in to pressure and blackmail, the problem of cotton production on tens of thousands of hectares of land will soon become a veritable nightmare.