Greece: Give us this day our really cheap bread

We need more dough. At Athens central market.
We need more dough. At Athens central market.
Ta Nea (Athens)

Bakers in Athens have decided to lower the price of bread to 50 cents. The initiative could soon be imitated in other sectors in the country, where the decline in consumer spending has even affected the market for basic grocery items.

A few days ago, 81 market gardeners and green grocers in the Thessalonika region announced that from 1st June, as a gesture of solidarity to large families and the unemployed, they will mark down the price of fruit and vegetables sold after midday by up to 50%. Now the bakers have decided to follow suit with an announcement by their Athens union, which has pledged to reduce the price of fresh bread for a period of two hours a day. "We proposed that our members reduce prices by whatever amount they saw fit, so as to help the underprivileged," explains union president Andréas Christou. During the special offer, which will be available from 2pm to 4pm every day, 350-gram loaves of bread will be on offer for 50 cents instead of the usual 80 cents or one euro. "It's a fair price," adds Christou. No specific details were available on the type of bread concerned, or on the duration of the offer, which aims to help the poor who are already feeling the effects of the crisis.

Some bakers did not wait for the union decision before cutting prices, which they slashed at the beginning of the year in a bid to hold on to customers and fight off competition from supermarkets. The current period of hard times has led Greeks to cut back on their consumption of basic foodstuffs and to content themselves with the bare minimum. Bread consumption has fallen by 20% since last year, and there are 30% fewer shoppers visiting the country's food markets.

Cutting mortgage payments by 70%

Consumer associations are hoping that the example of the bakers will inspire other trade associations to launch similar initiatives in Athens, where consumers earning basic wages which are among the lowest in Europe have to cope with some of Europe's highest prices. With one in four Greeks living below the European poverty line, there has been no shortage of comment on the urgent need for organised campaigns to reduce the cost of living.

Hoteliers, bakers and market gardeners are not alone in cutting prices in the country, where the banks have also been forced to restructure large numbers of loans. Some of them have cut their customers' monthly mortgage payments by as much as 70% in a bid to ensure that they do not default. A few years ago, the same banks were doing all they could to encourage Greeks to take advantage of consumer and property loans, and credit card spending. But now that the economy is in the throes of crisis, they are increasingly worried about their own solvency. While new mortgages are now virtually impossible to obtain, everything is being done to save existing ones. The figures are alarming. Almost 13.4% of Greek mortgages are verging on default. In response, the banks have adopted a policy of reducing payments, which they hope will limit the number of foreclosures.

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