Athens.- Prime minister George Papandreou on Friday appealed to the “patriotism” of protesting farmers to pull out of roadblocks they have set up for the 8th consecutive day throughout the country and to join in a dialogue called by the government on the country’s new agricultural policy.
Speaking in parliament, Papandreou warned that the roadblocks were hurting Greece’s image in the international economy, stressing that “there is absolutely no margin for satisfying the demands that are put forward sporadically and unplanned”.
Replying to questions tabled by the leaders of the smaller opposition parties on the farmers’ mobilizations, Papandreou noted that his government was putting an end to the “money for guild-like arrangements, temporary solutions hold up for only a few months, with roadblocks appearing again, and again trade-offs with the government”.
“The time has come for radical changes that give certainty and a future to the Greek provinces, to the farmers, to the villages. This is the bold battle we call on the farmers to wage with us, together. We do not want the farmers as co-culprits in a petty political exchange between us, but as participants in the great change,” the premier said.
Indeed, he added: “The roadblocks not only do not give solutions, but quite the contrary they create new problems. They cause immense damage also to the country’s image, given that the biggest deficit is that in credibility. Greece can no longer withstand being dragged through the mud and being ridiculed. There is no more margin for harming ourselves. The first to benefit from this situation are those who are speculating at our expense. I’ve toured the roadblocks, but blocking off the roads is not the solution,” Papandreou said.
He explained that he was not invoking patriotism in order to hide the problems, “but it is a truth that our country’s credibility is being judged every day”.
“Everything said is transcribed and goes daily to the offices of every economic factor internationally. The photographs are making the round of the world. Greece is in the target sight. This means that we must be even more responsible. The lack of a patriotic effort will harm us all, especially the weaker strata, the farmers,” Papandreou continued.
“It is better that the roads are closed, than homes,” Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga retorted. She blamed the current PASOK government and its predecessor New Democracy (ND) government for the situation “because for years now you have been applying the (EU’s) Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) very well”.
“Beyond the political blame, you also have the moral blame because you, too, allow your mouthpieces to slander the struggles of the farmers,” she added.
Papariga proposed a ban on imports of products that are also produced in Greece, anti-monopoly legislation, and ridding the farmers of the “big-time industrialists who suck their blood”, and instead linking agricultural production with the Mediterranean diet, “because agricultural production is primarily connected with the (food) processing industry”.
Papandreou counter-replied that if Papariga’s suggestions were implemented, then “not only the roads but also the homes will be closed”.
Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader George Karatzaferis, in turn, said that the cooperatives’ movement has degraded into a “source of corruption” and urged the prime minister to “start from scratch”, since barely 10-15 farmers’ cooperatives throughout the country were functioning properly, and gave a vote of confidence to agricultural development minister Katerina Batzeli, who he said “is perhaps the only agricultural minister to date who knows the procedures”.
Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA parliamentary alliance) leader Alexis Tsipras said there was a “deficit” in the democratic trade union representation of the farmers, and accused the country of “opting to hold a dialogue with bureaucracy, and those responsible for the problem, rather than with the farmers themselves”.
“You say we have no money. But we can suggest 2-3 zero-cost interventions: Put a rein on the arbitrariness and the middle-men. Put a stop to the ‘Hellenisation’ of products, the abusive attitude of the banks towards the farmers, eliminate the partisan character and clientele relations in the institutional agricultural agencies, create new types of collective economic organisation of the farmers,” Tsipras said, addressing himself to Papandreou.
“You say you have no money. Do you have the guts to introduce a different policy?” Tsipras asked the prime minister.
“Yes, Mr Tsipras. We are prepared to clash with the structures in the agricultural economy, the cooperatives movement, and we want you with us,” Papandreou replied.
“I seek the right to make a new beginning. And don’t be surprised if we do make a new beginning, as PASOK. We are a democratic movement. We will make a new beginning, a new agricultural economy in a new Greece,” the prime minister said.
Farmers in northern Greece and in Thessaly, central Greece, are continuing to block border crossings and roads on Saturday, despite the cold weather.
The Promahonas checkpoint has been open since 5 in the morning. The Egnatia motorway has roadblocks in two places and the Thessaloniki-Athens motorway at Nikea in the Larissa prefecture. Tractors are also lined up at the checkpoints of Platykambos and Melouna.
Farmers from the independent unions in the Serres prefecture have decided not to meet Agricultural Developmnt Minister Katerina Batzeli on Sunday.
During their meeting with trade unionist from the Nikea roadblock, Vangelis Boutas, the farmers decided that their common main demand is the financial one and boosting their income. Consequently, the two roadblocks and another eight from the rest of the country will not have representatives attending the meeting with the minister.
The border checkpoint leading to and from Bulgaria will remain closed, although it opened for a few hours on Saturday morning to help decongest traffic.