Forestry law scrapes past opposition

A controversial bill that critics say will ravage the country’s forests was passed by a narrow margin yesterday as all three opposition parties in Parliament voted against it in a roll call vote. The ruling PASOK party managed to put together 151 votes in the 300-member chamber. There were 134 votes against the bill and one deputy declared simply that he was present. The conservative New Democracy party, however, backed an amendment freezing fines imposed on people who have built illegally on forestland. The main opposition party argued that as the definition of a forest will now change, it would be senseless to impose fines on people when a new register of forestland will legalize their hitherto illegal buildings. Political commentators noted, however, that ND’s position may have been dictated by the need not to alienate voters who may benefit from the amendment. ND, however, said it believed that the law would be found unconstitutional in court. Another amendment, presented at the last moment late on Wednesday, allows local authorities to authorize the use of meadowland for housing. This too is expected to result in strong protests and legal recourse. The new legislation is expected to result in a reduction of more than 3 million hectares of Greece’s officially protected forestland by changing the definition of what constitutes forestland. Now, for land to be defined as forestland, at least 25 percent of it must be covered by trees, not shrubs, whereas up to now 15 percent tree cover was sufficient. Also, the plot must be at least 3 stremmas (0.3 hectares). Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys said at the end of the 12-hour debate that the legislation was dictated by the need to bring forest law into line with constitutional changes and to deal with chronic problems faced by citizens. A former member of Parliament for the Synaspismos Left Coalition, Evangelos Apostolou, told Athens’s Skai radio that an adviser to Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hadzimichalis has been involved in the illegal clearing of forestland on the island of Evia. Hadzimichalis said a court had found the area was not forestland.