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Greece to face EU court over protected areas

Greece to face EU court over protected areas

Greece is facing a new referral to the European Union’s Court of Justice over improper care of protected areas.

The case concerns the process of approving projects inside the Natura 2000 network, which today seems to serve exclusively the approval of projects, without the necessary assessment of applications.

According to European Commission sources, the focus of the new referral is the incorporation and application of Article 6 Paragraph 3 of Directive 92/43EEC, on the conservation of natural habitats. Greece has incorporated and implemented the directive incorrectly. Firstly, the due diligence process is part of the environmental permit issuing process, instead of preceding it.

Also, the Specific Ecological Assessment required in some cases (e.g. wind farms or projects next to areas important for birdlife) is not submitted independently but in the context of the environmental impact study.

Secondly, the due diligence is not conducted by an independent authority, but by the Environment Ministry’s licensing service and only for the projects for which it is responsible. Furthermore, the opinion of the body responsible for the protected area is not considered binding – there are cases of projects approved by decentralized administrations or regions in which the negative opinion of the body was bypassed.

The legal procedure provided by the Environment Ministry – i.e. the referral of the case to a Central Environmental Licensing Council – also seems to be contrary to the spirit of the directive. Finally, Greece has chosen to apply, albeit incorrectly, the appropriate assessment only to some categories of projects and not all.