Greece behind EU partners on environment

Greece will not have a separate environment ministry for another two or three years, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias told Parliament this week, citing the need to complete EU-funded works still in progress. Greece is lagging way behind its other European Union partners with regard to its political agenda and its citizens’ awareness of environmental issues. At their recent meeting in Luxembourg, EU environment ministers sought ways to persuade the international community to take stricter measures to prevent climate change and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. While Greeks are beginning to become aware of the real benefits of protecting their natural wealth, this has yet to be translated into specific policies. In Western Europe, these issues are high on the political agenda and on voters’ electoral criteria. To cite a recent example, at the Luxembourg Council meeting, where Greece was represented by Deputy Environment Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis, the participants worked on an action plan aimed at reaching a new international agreement on climate change by 2009 (in view of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali this December). They also decided to make efforts for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fuel in road transport. That is, to amend Directive 98/70/EU on specifications for gasoline and diesel fuels and to establish a mechanism for monitoring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fuel in road transport. In Greece, a shift in public opinion after the catastrophic summer wildfires appears to be slowly making its mark on policy. Until recently in favor of a joint environment and public works ministry, Souflias appears to have changed his mind somewhat, recently announcing a study on the possibility of splitting the ministry within the government’s current term. Generally, in Greece the environment is still seen as a nuisance factor for economic and development plans, which are not known for their transparency, nor are they usually made known to the public in any systematic fashion. Five organizations (Technical Chamber of Greece, Panhellenic Medical Association, Geotechnical Chamber, Economic Chamber, Greek Bar Association) issued an announcement ahead of this week’s parliamentary debate, calling attention to a lack of political will to tackle the country’s chronic environmental problems. They say this is evident even in the attention given to the fire-stricken areas, where they observed «significant omissions on the part of the relevant ministers and organizations, particularly with regard to the overall handling of the current situation, planning strategy and the coordinating body implementing the measures that had been announced.»