OPINION

Apologetic minister

The mere fact that the government refrained from making public the new legislation concerning forestry policy – even though it received Cabinet approval yesterday – is a sign of public apprehension over a host of measures which purportedly seek to protect Greece’s forestland, but which in fact jeopardize our few remaining forests. The public opprobrium forced the government to re-examine some of its earlier measures and was the reason behind the government’s decision to wait for the reactions to the legislation’s broad guidelines before making up its mind on the still-hidden points. This is also confirmed by the apologetic style of Agriculture Minister Giorgos Drys, who yesterday opened his press conference by laying out what the new measures will not entail. Drys’s stance can only mean that he sees reason for concern, too. When dealing with one of Greece’s most serious issues, on which legislative measures have been pending for 12 years, a new law in the runup to the elections probably has politically expedient objectives rather than offering a fair solution to what has perplexed lawmakers for so long. Any suggestions that the legislation is an exception to the general rule and rather comes after an in-depth examination of the problem soon evaporate in the light of the government’s acknowledgment that the new definitions of forestland are being introduced without any idea of how much area will be stripped of forest status or what their declassification will imply. Even this blatantly vote-grabbing offer to housing cooperatives that they will be given other areas in which to build if their properties cannot be declassified as forest areas was made without clarifying which areas will be exchanged or where they will be found. Some restrictions under the former system were no doubt too rigid or groundless. A rigid posture is not a good idea for such issues, but it is even worse to evade the conflicting demands of housing development and environmental protection. In a country whose once-rich expanses of forestland have been reduced by more than two-thirds in the past 60 years and whose urban centers have turned into concrete jungles, the risk of further destruction is more imminent than that from system rigidity. That this risk is worsened by hasty, vote-grabbing measures in a sector where decade-long clientelist relations have lead to deforestation is unacceptable.