Greece under fire from European Parliament

Atens News | September 7, 2007

Property speculation and lack of land registry are to blame for thedevastating fires, say MEPs

MEMBERS of the European Parliament have blamed a decade-long delay in setting up a land registry in Greece for the outbreak of fires over the years, including the recent spate of wildfires in southern Greece – the worst in history.

Greece is the only European Union country without a complete land registry, even though it received a 100 million euro EU grant for this purpose over a decade ago.

The ruling New Democracy government’s proposal to revise article 24 of the Greek Constitution was also attacked. Critics have warned this revision might greenlight the construction on millions of hectares of forestland. MEPs blasted Greece for failing to stop illegal construction on burnt-down forestlands and other protected areas.

“It is a disgrace that property developers should be allowed to take advantage of these disasters by building on former forestland,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter.

MEPs harshly condemned the practice of turning a blind eye to construction on protected and non-authorised areas, including burned forests.

“Legal loopholes are in part responsible for these horrible fires. Property speculation must be rejected,” said German Green lawmaker Elisabeth Schroedter.

In its resolution adopted on September 4, the European Parliament said it “deplores the fact that so many of these forest fires appear to have been started by acts of arson and is particularly concerned that criminal acts of arson are increasingly to blame for forest fires in Europe”.

The European Parliament said it “calls on the member states to strengthen penal sanctions for criminal acts that damage the environment… and believes that prompt and effective investigation to determine responsibilities, followed by a proportionate punishment, would discourage negligent and deliberate behaviours”.

The seven-page resolution also urged member states to ensure that all burned forest areas remain forests. “No land use change should be allowed,” it said.

The European Parliament, however, called on the European Commission, the 27-member bloc’s executive arm, to provide financial aid to the Greek villages most affected by forest fires this summer. The cost of damage is estimated between one and four billion euros.

“It is important that the EU should assist member states affected by these disasters; however, it is equally important that those member states in receipt of EU aid ensure that the funds are used as intended,” added Schlyter.

The European Parliament called on the commission to “monitor the proper, efficient and effective use of all emergency funds made available to member states to tackle the consequences of national disasters”.

European Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Huebner has said Greece could get as much as 600 million euros in aid this year to help the country recover from the fire disaster.

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