ATHENS, Greece – Temperatures are falling fast in Greece but with new taxes sending the price of heating fuel higher than ever before many crisis-hit households are unsure they can afford to warm their homes this winter.
The government in October abolished tax breaks on heating fuel in a bid to claw back millions of euros in tax revenue lost to petrol smuggling.
In doing so, they created a stark choice for hundreds of thousands of Greeks whose spare income has already suffered from three years of austerity cuts tied to EU-IMF bailout loans for the recession-hit country.
Conditions are even worse in Greece’s north where temperatures can fall under 15 degrees below zero Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) in winter.
Last month, residents of the northern town of Kavala symbolically dumped slabs of ice in front of the parliament in Athens to protest their plight.
The fuel reform means that a litre of heating oil costs 1.35 euros ($1.76) compared to 95 cents a year ago.
Interior Minister Evripides Stylianidis pledged the sum of 80 million euros to heat up schools.
But local mayors and teacher unions insist the money is inadequate.
“Even people with regular salaries cannot pay (these oil prices),” said Sofia Kanaouti, a 39-year-old Athenian who only has a part-time job as a university researcher.
“Last winter we spent 1,500 euros on heating, this year we’re going to need over 2,000 euros,” she told AFP.
“Many of the tenants still owe payments from last year, so the building manager decided against fuel orders this year,” adds Nikos Bouskos, a 45-year-old unemployed man who formerly worked as a web designer.
In recent years, smugglers would take advantage of the low price of heating fuel to pass it off as higher-price diesel for cars.
According to a recent study, a fifth of car fuel currently circulating in Greece has been siphoned off from heating and ship fuel reserves.
With petrol now out of the question for many, attention has turned to alternative forms of heating — wood pellets for stoves, electrical heating panels or air conditioning.
Others have turned to illegal logging.
Kanaouti chuckles as she reads an advertisement from a subsidiary of German engineering giant Siemens, offering heating solutions to “get rid of oil”.
“We can’t rid ourselves of the Germans,” she says, a reference in anger in Greece towards EU paymaster Germany’s perceived role in pushing for ever-increasing austerity measures in return for state loans.
Meanwhile, the fall in demand has also hit petrol station owners.
“Housing fuel sales are down 80% to 85% compared to last year,” says Michalis Kioussis, chairman of the federation of petrol station owners.
Another fuel station owner, Stefanos Karablias, says he’s confident that demand can only rise if temperatures continue to drop.
But many households say they’ll hold out as long as they can.
“We still have oil in the tank from last year, it will be enough to warm us at least until Christmas,” says Anastassia Kanellou, a 64-year-old pensioner. – Agence France-Presse