Misguided sensitivity

In some ways, Socialist Environment Minister Tina Birbili is more like an activist. She is definitely not a product of the existing political establishment. Calculations of political cost don’t hold her back. Most people seem to like her – deputies from PASOK and other political parties, less so. The minister was right to propose that anyone owning less than 1 hectare of land should be prevented from building in areas protected by the European Union’s Natura 2000 program. Regrettably, Birbili was forced to back-pedal following pressure from PASOK MPs as well as opposition deputies. Some politicians said that the minister’s eco-obsession, as it were, undermines growth. As if growth can only be achieved at the expense of the environment. Meanwhile, someone must finally inform Greece’s conservative party that environmental policies should not be exclusive to left-wing groups’ agendas. The problem with Birbili is not her alleged amateurism in dealing with environmental issues. Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou has a similar style, but he has the advantage of being able to invoke the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and Greece’s rescue each time he introduces a new albeit controversial measure. There is no question that the bill proposed by Birbili goes against the interests of many a middle-class Greek. However, since May last year the country’s middle class has has been hit by a plethora of laws which have been voted by (almost all) PASOK deputies. So it’s hard to explain their sensitivity over the «socially unjust» implications of this particular piece of legislation. Of course, since establishing their own independent state, Greeks have had a soft spot for owning as much land as they can – sometimes even grabbing it. It’s worth noting here that one of the earliest decrees issued by Otto, the first king of modern Greece, stated that houses must be built in a straight line, along the road and not be constructed according to people’s whims or according to the size and shape of the plot of land. Today, 180 years later, Greeks continue to build their houses in the same anarchic style – and it’s highly questionable whether Birbili, or any other politician for that matter, can solve this problem.