Farmers return to road blocks as government looks for way out of crisis

Farmers return to road blocks as government looks for way out of crisis

Athens, February 15, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Zacharias Petrou

Following a weekend of protesting in the center of Athens, Greek farmers participating in the roadblock at Tempi Valley in central-northern Greece closed the motorway again on Sunday, saying their action will continue indefinitely, while other groups of farmers announced new action starting Monday too.

Farmers from across Greece organized a massive protest rally in central Athens over Friday and Saturday, demanding that the government withdraws its proposed social security reform plan and agress to start dialogue from scratch.

Tempi Valley had remained open over the weekend so that protesters could attend the labour action in the capital. Farmers at Tempi, along with their colleagues at Mikrothives, central Greece are still expecting an invitation from the government on the proposals they submitted last week with improvements to the bill.

Farmers announced they will close the Greek-Bulgarian border crossing for 72 hours as of Monday, meaning no cars or lorries will be able to cross for three days, causing major disruption to trade. Farmers groups representatives from all over Greece will hold fresh meetings to decide the future of their mobilizations on Monday.

The latest protests by farmers, which saw about 15,000 people rally in Athens on Friday, with some remaining in Syntagma Square over the weekend has caused great concern to the government.

The government is intensifying its efforts to persuade farmers to engage in a dialogue, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras eager to reach an agreement that will allow his administration to move out of the dead end it has found itself in lately and diffuse the social upheaval caused by the introduction of pension and tax reforms.

The reactions of the farmers to pension and tax reforms has made some Syriza MP to avoid visiting their constituencies. In the northern city of Alexandroupolis, farmers participating in blockades verbally attacked two local Syriza Mps on the weekend. The two MPs were trapped in the city airport for hours as farmers have put pressure on local MPs all over Greece to vote against the social security reform plans when they are tabled in parliament.

According to reports in the press, the Prime Minister appears determined to bring the first program review to a succesful completion imminently by making concessions and going back on many of his government’s “red lines”, especially over pension cuts.

Should agreement be reached with creditors, the government will reportedly fast-track an omnibus bill through a parliamentary vote with the minimum amount of debate possible. Also, the PM will demand party discipline is shown on behalf of coalition MPs. It is reported that in this way, Tsipras will attempt to exit the difficult position the government is now cornered into with strong protests continuing all over Greece and creditors pushing for tough reforms.

Athens and its creditors will need to reach an agreement on four thorny issues (social security reform, the fresh fiscal measures, the bad loans and the new sell-off fund) for the first bailout review to head to a successful conclusion.