Measures ‘reward land-grabbers’

Opposition to the draft bill has been swift and vehement, with critics describing it as a piecemeal measure that will create more problems than it solves. As WWF-Hellas Director Dimitris Karavelas told Kathimerini: «The bill is not the answer to the problems affecting forests and forestland. It is not even the correct first step. On the contrary, it is the result of a series of inept measures that are gradually shifting the border between residential areas and forests, to the detriment of the latter. Land-grabbers are being rewarded and those of us who want to obey the law feel we are being made fools of.» Given that many problems have accumulated, what should be done? «The Agriculture Ministry should immediately complete the forest maps,» says Karavelas, «so that we know exactly what there is and where. Only when that has been done can we talk about special measures. We can’t keep going from the specific to the general. For many months, YPEHODE has been saying that it will go ahead with the overall zoning of Greece, which is directly connected with the bill.» Costas Bessis, president of the Panhellenic Union of Public Forestry Officials, spoke to SKAI radio about the lack of adequate data to provide a proper basis for the draft bill. «On September 22, Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hadzimichalis sent a letter from his office to all services asking for data. That means the State is unprepared and is basically raising false hopes, since the bill will be judged as unconstitutional.» «The law is unconstitutional,» Costas Diakos, attorney and member of the Initiative for the Protection of Public Land and Forestland, told Kathimerini, «because it attempts to define the meaning of the forest in contravention of Article 24 of the Constitution and the interpretation of it by the Supreme Special Court. It has abolished the proof of public ownership, which is the main guarantee of protection of the public nature of forests and forestland. The bill also limits protection to forests and only in a supplementary way to forestland. That permits the privatization of public areas and the abolition of the total protection of forests and forestland (both public and private). «Moreover, on the pretext of bypassing red tape and time-consuming administrative procedures, it attempts to remove the guarantee that constitutional provisions be followed in those procedures.» The Agriculture Ministry prefers to ignore the issue of illegal buildings and has put the ball in YPEHODE’s court, as the draft bill suggests that those who have built in forests and on forestland should demolish their buildings themselves so as not to pay fines. But, as former Deputy Environment Minister Ilias Efthymiopoulos explains, the issue of illegal buildings is directly connected to the draft bill. «Very many illegal buildings are on forestland, and I’d say that the biggest problem with that category is the semi-legal status of most of the housing cooperatives that are situated in forests or on forestland. «This situation has been perpetuated over the past three decades and no one has come up with a realistic solution that compensates owners in some way and does not harm the environment. Whoever solves this problem and protects the environment at the same time will do Greece an immense service.»

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