PASOK MPs force Birbili to back down

Environment Minister Tina Birbili was forced into an embarrassing climb-down on Tuesday over a draft law to prevent construction in environmentally protected areas after members of her own party said they were so displeased by the proposal that they would vote against it in Parliament.

Birbili had hoped to prevent anyone owning less than 1 hectare of land from building in areas protected by the European Union?s Natura 2000 program but the fierce opposition from PASOK MPs, as well as opposition deputies, meant she agreed this limit could be reduced to 0.4 of a hectare. This was a significant concession on Birbili?s part as Greek law allows anyone with 0.4 of a hectare of land to build without a permit, regardless of whether the plot is in a protected area or not.

Backed by environmental groups, Birbili had hoped to enforce the 1-hectare limit in Natura 2000 areas – a European network designed to protect threatened habitats and species – to rein in construction in environmentally sensitive areas. However, the vast majority of MPs on the cross-party parliamentary committee that scrutinized the bill on Monday said this would damage the potential for growth in a number of areas around Greece. The whole of the island of Alonissos, for instance, is considered a Natura reserve.

?We will support the legislation if the provision for 1 hectare is removed,? said New Democracy deputy Dionysia Avgerinopoulou. ?It is socially unjust, illogical and ineffective. If it does not change, we will vote against it.?

Birbili will now have to rework the bill in order to appease the deputies but her hardest task may be getting PASOK MPs back on her side. The Socialist lawmakers led the way in the opposition to the bill and there were complaints from them that this was another example of the government not consulting with its deputies.