Monday, 18 January 2010

How to Unblock the National Roads

Monday morning dawned with reports that Greek farmers have blocked various points on the national road between Athens and Thessaloniki (starting from Kastro and going north), as well as the Egnatia Odos. Their demands are, as usual, a higher price for primary producers, because: (a) they are highly indebted, and (b) the middlemen take a higher margin.

It seems to me there are two sets of solutions to two different problems. The first problem is that of the road blocks on the national road. It is inconceivable in a modern society that a small group of marginalised individuals, usually with little education, who benefit from at least one billion Euros in European Union and public agricultural subsidies every year, are allowed to block the roads. The second problem is the agricultural model itself, which I will address in a different post. Let’s look at the first problem.

This anti-social behaviour of blocking the national roads permits one group to hold the transport grid of the entire country hostage. It prevents exports from crossing Greece to get to the ports; it prevents the internal transfer of goods and people. It’s a violation of eminent domain: If I were the Nea Odos public-private partnership commissioned by the government to expand, repair and run the highway from Athens to Lamia, I would simultaneously sue each farmer for illegally occupying my place of business, and the government, for allowing this to take place.

But the greatest indication that these tactics do not work comes from the farmers themselves. Although they have been occupying the highways for years, they are still essentially in the same situation as 20 years ago: heavily indebted, dependent on middlemen, facing declining financial margins. It’s clear that neither the massive subsidy system (nor the obscene environmental degredation this policy engenders) nor the system of continual public support (e.g. through higher OGA agricultural pensions) has fundamentally changed the terms of the agricultural profession in Greece.

My first solution is to the immediate issue is simple. Every European Union or public tender I’ve participated in has some variant of the following clauses:

I declare that, in accordance to Section 2.3.3 of the PRAG that the company Navigator Consulting Ltd. located in Athens, Greece:

(a) is not bankrupt or being wound up, has not its affairs administered by the courts, has not entered into an arrangement with creditors, has not suspended business activities, is not the subject of proceedings concerning those matters, or is not in any analogous situation arising from a similar procedure provided for in national legislation or regulations;

(b) has not been convicted of an offence concerning their professional conduct by a judgment which has the force of res judicata;

(c) has not been guilty of grave professional misconduct proven by any means which the Contracting Authority can justify;

(d) has fulfilled obligations relating to the payment of social security contributions or the payment of taxes in accordance with the legal provisions of the country in which it is established or with those of the country of the Contracting Authority or those of the country where the contract is to be performed;

(e) has not been the subject of a judgment which has the force of res judicata for fraud, corruption, involvement in a criminal organisation or any other illegal activity detrimental to the Communities' financial interests;

(f) following another procurement procedure or grant award procedure financed by the Community budget, has not been declared to be in serious breach of contract for failure to comply with their contractual obligations.

The solution is therefore simple:

1. Make the occupation and blockage of a highway (or the occupation of a government office, university, etc.) an illegal act (if it is not already illegal).

2. Specify in all public subsidy applications and contracts that anyone convicted of organising or committing such an act will be ineligible for further public subsidies.

3. Enforce the law.

After all, it should be relatively simple even for the Greek police to record the license plate numbers of the tractors blocking the highway. The farmers themselves are all out being interviewed on the morning, afternoon and evening TV shows.

Enough is enough. The roads are not theirs to block. Even when European and Greek taxpayers pour billions of Euros down their inexhaustible gullets, the rest of productive society gets no relief from their stupidity and incompetence. In fact, we will be paying for their pesticides and fertilisers polluting the environment and harming human health for generations. If they can’t organise their commercial affairs to break even, they should exit the business.

The same applies to the students who insist on destroying university or public property. It applies to unionists who enter and occupy government buildings. It applies to every plaintant who feels that they can interrupt public life and cause financial damage in exchange for yet more hand-outs. Why should society be penalised by the anti-social behaviour of its least productive members?

If the government is not willing to take its responsibilities and enforce the law, then I suggest a group of like-minded citizens bands together, hires a lawyer, and starts issuing legal notices. Enough is enough.


  1. Once again Philip you have hit the nail on the head. It is a sorry state, one that allows certain citizens to violate one of the main human rights. I am quite confused on why the goverment (every single one of them) allows these people to block MY FREE ACCESS to anywhere in the country. In addition to this, the are occupying something that does not belong to them and as a result they are conducting an offence and should be prosecuted and if found guilty convivted for the offence. I will not enter the discussion of their subsidies as a) we would need a substantially bigger space to record the billions of Euros these people take and b) I am already fed up with the same story being repeated year in year out. At the end of the day, they receive funds (subsidies that are not paid back) to perform their chose business, something that most people do not... Why should it be harder for an individual to start his/her own business and yet if somebody claims to cultivate crops, automatically receives a subsidy for his/her operating costs????

  2. Exactly Alex. If we were all to receive the same level of subsidies your average cotton or rice farmer in Greece receives...and if we were all to work at the same productivity level...