Greek protests: farmers say reducing electricity costs not enough

Farmers at a protest in Athens.
Farmers at a protest in Athens. Copyright Euronews
By Euronews with AP
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Like many of their European counterparts, farmers in Greece are demanding their government do more to improve their working conditions.

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Scores of bright-coloured tractors were parked outside Greece's parliament on Tuesday, horns blaring, as thousands of farmers angry at high production costs brought their demands to Athens.

“Without us, you don’t eat," one banner said. Some farmers carried mock coffins and funeral garlands as symbols of their plight.

The farmers, whose grievances are similar to those at farmer protests elsewhere in Europe, have spent weeks staging sporadic blockades along highways and in rural towns.

Along with the overall cost pressures, many of those who farm in central Greece are still reeling from major floods last year.

The centre-right government has expressed sympathy with the farmers but said budgetary constraints prevent it from meeting all their demands, beyond substantial electricity cost reductions.

Protesters say that's not enough. They want tax-free fuel, debt forgiveness, measures against foreign competition and speedier compensation for damage from natural disasters.

Farmers are also frustrated at the substantial markup in shelf prices compared to what wholesalers pay them for their produce.

Manolis Liakis, a farmer from the southern island of Crete, singled out fuel costs. He said farmers pay more than three times as much for petrol as shipping companies due to tax disparities.

"We can’t be producing and (selling) our products for ridiculously low prices while the consumer buys them at extremely high prices,” he said.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a television interview on Monday said he could not support additional tax breaks and concessions but wanted to continue discussions with protesters.

In front of the Greek parliament, protesting farmers rally in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.
In front of the Greek parliament, protesting farmers rally in Athens, Greece, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.Thanassis Stavrakis/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

In a show of solidarity, hundreds of students joined the farmers and protested government plans to end the state monopoly on university education.

The government took back a previous threat to block Tuesday’s protest. Police were deployed to help divert highway traffic, and much of central Athens was blocked to motorists and public transport.

The rally ended peacefully – but some farmers planned to stay outside parliament all night and leave with their tractors on Wednesday.

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