Large tracts of forest at risk

Yet again, Article 24 of the Constitution on environmental protection has come up for parliamentary debate amid strong opposition from political parties and other organizations that fear changes to the law will endanger over 450,0000 hectares of land, most of it forest. This same article was changed in the constitutional review of 2001, but its effectiveness in protecting the environment has been insufficient. The government is now suggesting three main changes: – The use of aerial photographs from 1975, rather than those from 1945 or 1960 currently in use, to determine forested areas. In practice, this would help legalize all past land-grabbing, particularly during the 1967-74 dictatorship, say experts. – A distinction be made between forest and scrubland regarding the degree of protection provided and land use. According to the report on the constitutional review, permission will be given for changes in the use of scrubland «at the same time guaranteeing optimal living conditions.» Yet scientists explain that scrub coverage often serves the same purpose as tall forests, which in any case do not grow easily in the Greek climate. Moreover, a scorched forest remains «scrub» for years. – Linking the use of scrubland areas with town planning, which does not now include protected areas, a change linked to the abolition of protected status for scrub. In addition, changes are proposed to paragraphs 3 and 4 of Article 117 concerning distinctions between state and private forests with regard to permitted activities and protection. According to the existing law, private forests are governed by the same rules as state forests, that is, their owners may not intervene in any way. Finally, the proposed foundation of a Constitutional Court is undoubtedly linked to the fact that many laws are judged to be unconstitutional by the Council of State. Until now, the opposition has been against the review, and a number of organizations such as the Technical Chamber of Greece and the municipal government union (KEDKE) have expressed their complete opposition to it.

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