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Farmers are to declare war on the state for European benefits

24 January 2012 / 22:01:29  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

January and February are traditionally the months of farmers' protests in Greece. This year, they are modest and they have not created any problems to the traffic in fact.

Greek farmers demand state control and financing for the agricultural organization ELGA, which should cover losses due to all natural disasters and diseases related to their production and pay compensation for any damage.

Farmers are planning to protest in front of the local departments of ELGA, regional authorities and the branches of the national electricity company, and to block the Greek roads.

GRReporter turned to the farmers’ chairman in the region of Serres Yannis Tourtouras and asked whether this year we will witness blockades at the border with Bulgaria.

"I assure you that there will be no blocked roads anywhere in Greece for the moment, because we believe that the situation in the country does not allow such protests. We are in constant touch with our colleagues from across the country, including from the region of Thessaly, with whom we had general protests. Therefore, I am certain when I am saying that there are no such intentions so far. For our area, it is possible to hold protests in Serres, but they will not affect road transport in any way." However, he stressed that this information applies for the next 20 days.

According to Yannis Tourtouras, one of the major problems for farmers remains the purchase prices of their products. "Add the increased prices of electricity and the extra taxes to that and you will find out how many difficulties we face."

He said farmers protest, because nobody in the Ministry of Agriculture deals with current issues. "Minister Costas Skandalidis is involved in PASOK party problems, the Deputy Minister Asterios Rondoulis from Laos in my opinion is a "lottery winning" man, who has found himself in a responsible post although he does not understand anything in these matters, and the other Deputy Minister Yiannis Drivelengas lives in his own world."

Another burning issue for them is the tax they pay on behalf of ELGA – the insurance organization of farmers in Greece. "The deductions were 3% of the produce before. Now, we are forced to pay in advance regardless of the type and amount of products we have and per acre of agricultural land. This is not fair." He said the prices of products, which are the base of the specific deduction, are calculated incorrectly. "It is impossible to price the vegetables produced per acre at 50-60 euro. What will be the farmer's profit in this case? All this has been done "in the air", like everything else in Greece."

Taxation of farmers is one of the most debated topics lately. They are not obliged to keep books and according to experts, this creates a favourable basis for tax evasion by the participants throughout the chain of agricultural production to the end consumer. "We declare ourselves in favour of accounting books and many of us have them. However, there was another status, in which farmers paid a 23% tax, no matter what happens to our products. And do not forget that the tax per acre is fair. What I would like to emphasize is that farmers are not the leaders in tax evasion in Greece. Those of us who do it are few and are owners of large agricultural lands. Naturally, we are not against the introduction of books for all of us."

At the beginning of the year, European Union sources said that Greek farmers would have to return about 425 million euro, which the government had wrongfully granted them during the protests in 2009. "We had damage evidenced by ELGA, for which we received benefits. It is not our problem if there are people in the government, who are not doing their job well and are not able to account for the funds to the European Union. I am not a lawyer to know what the ministry was supposed to do before giving the money. It is certain that farmers are not responsible for that. But if they once again require from the farmers to pay for the mistakes of others, it will be a reason for a war. In this case, there will not be just protests; the whole of Greece will "burn."

He said the information appeared to intimidate the farmers, who protest in support of their claims each year at this time. "We have been in crisis for about ten years now. That is why we go to protests. I think this is an attempt to send a message to farmers to stay keep quiet in order not to see taken away from them also what they have been given."

He complained that the lawsuits against them for past protests held in 2007 are still ongoing. "These are the so-called "agricultural courts." Each of us has several claims in which we are charged with moral support, inciting protests, blocking roads, etc."

The peak of farmers’ protests is expected on 4 February with the conduct of a Pan-Hellenic meeting at the opening of the annual fair for agricultural machinery Agrotiki in Thessaloniki.

Tags: EconomyFarmersProtestsBlockadesCompensationsEuropean UnionTaxes
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