Greeks have been encouraged by President Karolos Papoulias to develop a «new social conscience» with respect to the environment just hours after the country was informed it may be taken to the European Court of Justice for allowing the River Asopos to become heavily polluted. Papoulias made the comment on Saturday while visiting Lake Koroneia, near Thessaloniki, which has also been plagued by pollution problems in the last few years. «I am here today to underline that the protection of the environment is a national matter,» said the president. «We need a nationwide effort to protect the environment.» «We made mistakes in the past, ignoring some things that we thought would turn out better than they have. We have not been able to protect the environment in this way,» said Papoulias, who was also outspoken about Greece’s failings following the devastating wildfires this summer. «Today, I think we need to create a new social conscience with respect to the environment. This new conscience has to start from nursery schools, from small children to the eldest.» Hundreds of birds died at Koroneia last month after a buildup of harmful bacteria that was caused by pollution and the excessive use of the lake for irrigation purposes. «We have been indifferent,» admitted Thessaloniki Prefect Panyiotis Psomiadis. «The mistakes began some 20 years ago and the president is very wise to talk about the indifference of the past and that we will only save the lake if we are united.» Psomiadis said that a project to protect the lake, which was drawn up after the most recent ecological disaster at Koroneia three years ago, would begin next year. Meanwhile, Greece was notified by the European Commission at the end of last week that it faces being taken to court over its failure to clean up the Asopos River north of Athens. The Environment and Public Works Ministry unveiled plans earlier this month to clean up the river, which contains highly toxic depleted chromium, and provide local people with clean drinking water. However, the European Commission’s warning is likely to keep the pressure on the government to ensure that the works are carried out.