Agriculture Minister Costas Skandalidis on Friday strongly criticised protests announced by Greek farmers, slamming them as "untimely, unfair and incomprehensible" at a time of economic crisis. He also warned that there was absolutely no margin for meeting their demands.

Speaking during a press conference at the Zootechnia 2011 agricultural exhibition in Thessaloniki, Skandalidis urged farmers not to repeat "the folkloric scenes" witnessed during the 2010 farmers' protests, when tractors had blockaded the Greek-Bulgarian border and even prompted direct intervention by the Bulgarian prime minister, who came to speak with them at the border.

Skandalidis said the ministry would continue dialogue with farmers but had essentially rejected their demands in advance. He underlined that demands for an increase in VAT returns to 15 percent or untaxed fuel were simply "unfair". Concerning their demand for reduced payments to the farm insurance agency ELGA, Skandalidis pointed out that the government was already paying out more than ELGA received in contributions from farmers.

The minister noted that legislation would soon be passed that would reduce the powers of the middlemen and ensure farmers were better paid for their products, while a new framework for farming cooperatives would be voted into law before Easter. He also announced planned initiatives to help newly-established farmers.

Following lengthy talks with Skandalidis in Thessaloniki on Thursday evening, representatives of farmers in northern and central Greece announced the start of a new round of protest mobilisations as of February 7 in support of their demands. In an announcement on Friday, the farmers' union PASY also called farmers in the Peloponnese to take part in rally being organised next Monday in the central square of Tripolis.

Skandalidis is due in Tripolis on that day for talks with the regional council on supporting farmers and promoting Peloponnesian produce.

Protests by Greek farmers have become an essentially annual phenomenon during the winter months when there is generally less work on farms, with farmers using their tractors to block national highways and border checkpoints in order to press demands for lower costs, greater subsidies and help in paying debts.