Greece’s fires may also damage government in coming elections

With 64 people dead, nearly 300,000 hectares burned and powerful wildfires still raging across Greece, voters may punish the current government for mismanaging the crisis in next month’s elections.

The wildfires raging across Greece have focused local and international attention on what many observers have called an ineffective, insufficient and late response to the crisis by Greece’s current Conservative government under Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. 

Arson is frequently cited as the cause of the fires: real estate speculators have been accused of setting the fires deliberately in order to clear land for development. 

The government acknowledged that arson is likely to blame, but it pointed the finger at an “asymetrical threat” – a term usually used for terrorist groups. This has apparently angered many Greeks, who say the blame should fall on local developers and corrupt government officials who seek to profit from the fires. 

In an apparent effort to seize on the government’s troubles, George Papandreou, leader of the socialist and main opposition party PASOK, accused the government of being “tragically incapable” of responding to the crisis. Papandreou also charged that the government is spending its time “fabricating theories about terrorist conspiracies” rather than providing assistance to citizens. 

But infighting and internal divisions have also been reported in Papandreou’s party, which was not predicted to win the elections before the outbreak of the fires, according to polls. Press reports suggest that many Greeks remain undecided about how they will vote in the national elections, scheduled for 16 September.

The Commission is scheduled to put forth a proposal in the autumn for the creation of a new European civil protection force designed specifically to respond to natural disasters (EURACTIV 02/08/07 and 27/08/07). 

Further EU disaster assistance may be required soon. In a conversation with the German newspaper Die Welt, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, a Greek, warned that the massive deforestation across southern Europe caused by this summer’s wildfires will likely increase the risk of massive flooding during rainy periods.

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