OPINION

The root of the crisis

Protest action by cotton farmers has reached a critical point: It will either wane or intensify. The government is trying to manage the crisis using political means so as to ward off the social reverberations of a potential blockade of the country’s national highways. The nature of the problem does not leave it much room to maneuver. Using money from the state budget to meet farmers’ demands would be against European Union law. Even if it wasn’t, such a move would only perpetuate the problem. The present crisis is only a manifestation of a more general mentality. It is an attitude that allows – not to say encourages – wrongdoing, lawbreaking, profiteering, corruption and shady dealings, all of which undermine Greece’s truly productive forces. Some 17,500 producers (out of 82,500) were recently found to have broken their crop quotas. The bad news was already old news, of course, and it only leaked out after the crisis broke and when the Agriculture Ministry proposed exclusion of the extra crop in order to increase subsidies for legal produce. In other words, if the chronic state of toleration and complicity – by all interested parties, including the ministry – has come to an end, it was thanks to the crisis. The unquestionable conclusion is that the bureaucratic process that has been set up to ensure transparency for subsidies has been subject to systematic violations. Those who enjoy political and other forms of protection have a comparative advantage and can significantly increase their profits to the expense of producers who stick to the letter of the law. This unacceptable situation does not just produce injustice within the farming community, it also fuels disappointment among law-abiding citizens and tarnishes Greece’s image abroad. Not to mention that the European Commission may well question the data published by Greece’s public services. The political wager that the current administration must win is more important than keeping the highways open. Government policy must remedy this unhealthy mentality that produces phenomena of degeneration, from the blatant overpricing of public works to the faltering productivity of public administration. According to an annual report released yesterday by the European Commission, Greece is at the bottom among EU countries as regards meeting the Lisbon objectives for the Information Society. Schematic as the indices may be, they still reflect a deficiency that limits national growth.