Greece Gets Grief for Its Environmental Neglect

bearded vulture bird species tibet photo
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The bearded vulture (seen here in Tibet) is one of the bird species at risk in Greece. Photo by reurinkjan via Flickr.

Already in the doghouse with the rest of the European Union over its massive debt and financial instability, Greece is now coming in for criticism for another kind of mismanagement: failing to protect its natural parks and biodiversity."The European Commission has reprimanded Greece for two failures to effectively implement biodiversity legislation," the Bulgarian newspaper The Sofia Echo reported Friday. And it's not the first time the country has gotten a scolding for not complying with two key EU environmental laws, the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive, the sections of the Natura 2000 legislation that require member states to set up special areas for protecting, well, birds and habitat.

Too Few Protected Areas for Birds
"Greece has previously been taken to court for failing to designate a sufficient number of protected areas for birds, and for not providing adequate protection to the areas that have been designated," the European Commission wrote on its website. "The [European Court of Justice] found numerous shortcomings, most of which have still not been tackled. Further failures to address these problems could mean another appearance in court and ultimately fines."

Among the bird species at risk in Greece are the endangered Bearded Vulture (Gypætus barbatus) and the threatened Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca).

Romania Given 'Final Warning' About Breaking Environmental Laws
Greece is not alone in the EU in facing fines for neglecting its nature. Bulgaria was put on notice in the fall for conservation lapses, and the same day it reprimanded Greece, the European Commission also gave Romania a "final warming" about breaching EU laws regarding environmental impact assessments.

Romania constructed "a major formaldehyde production plant in 2007, without a permit and before any impact assessment having been made," The Sofia Echo reported in a separate story. "Romanian authorities initially ordered the demolition of the plant, but the order was later rescinded by a local court."

The Commission had previously brought Romania before the European Court of Justice for not meeting its commitment to designate more than 1 million hectares of nature conservation areas to protect wild birds, including its 12 globally threatened species.

Birds a 'Barometer for Biodiversity'
"Birds are a barometer for biodiversity -- so adequate protection of their habitats is vital. Biodiversity is a precious resource, and we squander it at our peril," former EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement at the time.

"The pressure on Europe's biodiversity has never been more intense. All Member States must do their best to preserve our remaining natural habitats," current commissioner Janez Potočnik said in a statement about the warning given to Greece this week. "Greece has to fully enforce Europe's Natura 2000 legislation before it is too late."