Greeks forgo winter heating after jump in fuel tax

Thu Feb 7, 2013 10:03am EST
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By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek cleaner Eleni Daneel's family spends evenings in their Athens home bundled up in coats after a steep rise in fuel prices made heating their apartment an unaffordable luxury this winter.

Daneel is one of a growing number struggling to keep warm after a fuel tax hike aimed at curbing smuggling and boosting revenues for the cash-strapped state sent heating oil prices up 40 percent.

With Greeks already struggling under wage and pension cuts imposed by the foreign lenders that bailed their country out, many have stopped using heating oil altogether, pushing consumption down 70 percent in the last three months of 2012 from a year earlier.

"Some cry, others swear. I've never experienced anything like this before, not being able to keep warm," said Daneel, 57, who supports her unemployed children and bed-ridden husband with her 400-euro monthly salary.

"Why aren't we allowed to live a dignified life?"

Weather in Greece may be milder than in northern Europe, but temperatures still drop below freezing in some coastal areas - a rare snowfall blanketed Athens last month - while mountainous and northern regions are covered in snow through the winter.

Revenues from the tax rose to 120 million euros over the period from 73 million previously, but was a long way short of the 277 million euro government target because of the dramatic drop in consumption.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, however, has refused to row back on the tax hike, saying that aligning heating oil and car fuel taxes eliminates smuggling and that additional revenue for state coffers was secondary.   Continued...

Apostolos Mastouropoulos, who works at an environmental association, speaks during an interview with Reuters as his wife Diana looks on in their house in the Petroupoli suburb, west of Athens February 3, 2013. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis