Faced with criticism for his alleged poor handling of the fires and floods that struck Greece this summer, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pledged fresh funding and reforms in order to fight the “climate war”. The promises could reinvigorate the image of his newly elected government that has been tarnished by footage of residents taking refuge on their roofs in desperate need of rescue as rising waters engulfed poorly prepared regions.
“Greece is facing a war in a time of peace,” Mitsotakis said in his Thessaloniki International Fair keynote speech on Saturday.
“Over a two-week period, we experienced the worst wildfire and the worst floods in our history,” he added.
“The climate crisis is here and forces us to see everything differently,” he said.
The floods devastated the fertile Thessaly plain in central Greece in early September.
The storms killed 17 people, swallowed cotton crops and fruit trees and killed hundreds of thousands of animals on Greece’s breadbasket.
They devastated a country that had just been hit by “the biggest fire ever recorded in the EU”, according to a European Commission spokesman, in the northeast region of Evros bordering Turkey.
Twenty-eight people were killed in the fires, among them two firefighting pilots and 20 migrants in the Evros region.
The deadly blaze followed violent flames that ravaged the tourist islands of Rhodes and Corfu in July, with thousands of evacuations ordered.
Mitsotakis also pledged a 10 percent rebate on property tax for anyone who insures their home against natural disasters, adding he is considering making such insurance compulsory.
The Sunday daily Protothema saw these announcements as “a restart” for the government.
The conservative leader admitted a certain “confusion of responsibilities” between the state services responsible for responding to torrential rains, as well as “the frequent tendency” to shift blame to others.
“In Thessaly and Evros, I have heard the anger of the people,” said the prime minister, whose New Democracy (ND) party won an absolute majority in the June parliamentary elections.
He has come under sharp criticism from the opposition and residents affected by the floods.
The government was blasted for the slowness of the emergency services and the lack of preparedness, despite the fact that Thessaly was already hit by extreme weather in 2020.
Fingers were pointed at failures in cooperation between the army and civil protection in the hours following the disaster.
In just three months in office, Mitsotakis has seen two of his ministers resign, including one in charge of citizen protection, because he was on holiday on an island in the Aegean Sea while fires raged.
The press has been buzzing with rumours of a cabinet reshuffle following local elections on 8 October, although the government spokesman has denied any such plans.
The Minister for Civil Protection and Climate Crisis, Vassilis Kikilias, is also in the hot seat, according to analysts and the media.
The Mitsotakis government bears “enormous responsibility” for the destruction caused by the extreme weather, denounced Effie Achtsioglou, former labour minister and candidate for the presidency of the left-wing Syriza party.
She condemned the fact that “no serious flood prevention work has been carried out”.
According to a poll for the private television channel Mega, 61 percent of those questioned have a negative image of the government and 66 percent believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction.
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