Thessaloniki Metro buried under legal disputes

Thessaloniki Metro buried under legal disputes

The completion of the Thessaloniki Metro is being delayed by a series of rearguard legal actions, all supported and abetted by the opposition Syriza party.

The action focuses on antiquities found at the site of what is going to be the “Eleftherios Venizelos” metro station.

At stake is whether the antiquities will stay in place, with construction having to go around them, or be temporarily moved and put back in place again. Although, based on decisions by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, the project builders have already started the removal process, opponents of the move are making procedural motions which the high court has to take up. 

The Council of State had rejected, in December 2020, a petition against a decision by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council agreeing with the metro company’s position to temporarily remove the authorities. So, the opponents have petitioned against the Cultural Minister’s acceptance of the Council’s decision; this case will be heart in court on December 8. Another filing, seeking an injunction against the removal of the antiquities will be heard on January 22.

Attica Metro, the company implementing the project, is now considering suing the perpetrators of this legal guerrilla, mindful of the fact that continued delays will trigger costly clauses and will cause a further cut in EU funds supporting the project.

The institutions behind this legal action – the Citizens’ Movement for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Archaeologists’ Association, the Hellenic Society of Environment and Culture, the Christian Archaeological Society – have invested a lot in a communications campaign about the destruction of heritage that the temporary move of the antiquities would entail. But the campaign has failed to gain much traction among ordinary citizens, who fail to see the big difference a temporary removal would make. At least, citizens have not been galvanized to mobilize against the removal and appear rather indifferent.

But citizens do appear fatigued by the chronic delays in the Thessaloniki Metro – not all the result of the antiquities dispute – in a city choking with transport gridlock. Professionals directly affected by the delays have also had enough.

“Have of my 35 years in retail, I have spent with the sheet metal of the metro construction right in front of my shop. Enough, we are getting killed,” says a shopowner on Egnatia Street.

“It is abundantly clear that the persistent choice of judicial action without limits by some reflects their goal to obstruct metro completion works, cause new unbearable delays and, finally, to challenge the project itself,” said a joint statement signed by the Region of Central Macedonia, the Regional Union of Municipalities of Central Macedonia, the Thessaloniki Municipality, the local Professional Chamber, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Technical Chamber of Greece/Department of Central Macedonia and the Merchants’ Association.

On their part, the project opponents and their Syriza supporters claim a disinterested concern for the antiquities and reject accusations of opposing the metro.

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