Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It all kicks off in Greece

Greece's financial troubles may be hitting the euro, but this has not deterred Greek farmers who have been in a ten day confrontation with their government as it desperately seeks to stabilise the budget. The farmers have marched through central Athens demanding an extra €1 billion in subsidies.

This is cloud cuckoo land politics but, quite frankly, anything is possible in Greece which has shamelessly misled the EU about the scale of its budget deficit. Greece is the worst kind of party state reminiscent of Italy in the past where politics is about granting favours and can verge very closely to behaviour that is corrupt.

One of the populist slogans is 'Give money to farmers not bankers', referring to the government's attempts to raise funds abroad to pay down its debt. The realities of the situation have been well summarised by Yannos Papantoniou, the former finance minister who took Greece into the euro: 'Deep structural refoms are needed to engineer first growth, then productivity increases. Since the state sector is inadequate and inefficient, the country needs to embrace privatisation and market liberalisation to get growth going again.'

They could start with the agricultural sector which, if it was smaller, might be able to cause less disruption. Farmers have been blocking 20 highway junctions across the country, including a blockade of the country's border with Bulgaria which has upset the fellow EU member state. One might think that, in an internal market, this came within the remit of the EU itself.

But I'm afraid it's old style farm politics in Greece and we shall see a lot of that as the EU and its member states include agriculture in the round of budget cuts.

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