NEWS

A ministry for the environment

Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias yesterday heralded the creation of a separate environment ministry during the first six months of next year, and proposed that public works be overseen by a new ministry. Unveiling the government’s plans for environmental initiatives over the next three years, the minister said that next year would be «the right time» to set up an autonomous environment ministry – an idea first mooted in 2005 and discussed more seriously following the catastrophic forest fires of 2007. Souflias proposed that such a ministry cover forest protection and energy issues. He also suggested the abolition of the Transport Ministry as it exists today and its replacement by an infrastructure and transport ministry. It was unclear whether the idea is one that has the backing of other ministers including current Transport Minister Evripidis Stylianidis who was in the audience addressed by Souflias yesterday. In his speech, Souflias also took the opportunity to rebuff widespread criticism regarding his environmental sensitivity. He claimed that the Asopos River in central Greece, which tests have shown to contain significant traces of hexavalent chromium, a potentially carcinogenic chemical, is now clean and that any pollution is restricted to underground water sources. Souflias asserted that Greece only has one river left with high levels of pollution, the Pineios in Thessaly, but claimed that this problem would be solved by means of a controversial project to divert the waters of the Acheloos River in western Greece to the heavily farmed plains of Thessaly. In an unfortunately timed coincidence for Souflias and his attempts to promote his administration’s green credentials, the European Commission yesterday ordered Greece to appear before the European Court over its failure to meet EU standards of waste water management in eastern Attica. According to EU law, Greece should have set in place a basic wastewater management network in this area by the end of 2000.