Concrete measures

By Nikos Xydakis

The government’s decision to submit draft legislation on key environmental issues during the Parliament’s summer session has raised a fair amount of controversy. Most prominent are the bills on coastal development and construction on forestland.

First of all, it is not clear if the measures are outlined in the so-called prior actions mandated by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for the next tranche of bailout funds. Secondly, the bills have also sparked reactions among deputies as well as coalition ministers. Speaking on the coastal bill, for example, Environment Minister Yiannis Maniatis said earlier this week that there is no need for fresh legislation. What is needed, he said, is rules to clearly define the Greek shoreline.

Meanwhile, New Democracy MP Dionysia Avgerinopoulou, who is also chairwoman of the Parliament’s environmental committee, said that the forestland bill runs against the Greek Constitution. During a parliamentary debate on the subject, the bill came fire from all sides, including from the Technical Chamber, the Geotechnical Chamber, the Forestry Association, and the Greek chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The bill effectively surrenders forests to developers, they said.

Objections to the deregulation of Greece’s shoreline have also been widespread, spontaneous and have cut across party lines. Citizen groups first reacted in the runup to May’s elections and criticism has continued to escalate despite rumors that the government plans to withdraw the measures. This is probably because most people speculate that the government will only bring back the bill in disguise.

Why is the government so keen to dismantle the country’s environmental safeguards? Conservative MP Adonis Georgiadis has one answer: “Hang on guys. We have the world’s longest coastline. Why not make some cash out of it?”

I’m afraid that the argument Greece needs to raise some cash is not the answer to the pressing need for recovery. That is not the way to do it. We have already seen Spain sacrifice its coast to cement, and it doesn’t look good. And it makes no sense to declassify forestland to make way for waste management facilities or large hotel complexes when there are thousands out there that remain unsold.

Unchecked construction was one of the reasons that led to Greece’s derailment. We did not produce wealth and added value, but bubbles.

We will never recover by repeating past mistakes.