Greece struggles with EU rules

The European Commission has referred Greece, Italy and Spain to the European Court of Justice over their failure to comply with the draft directive on water resources. The legal action began three years ago, but Greece’s water policy problems have been draining the country for years. In every part of Greece except Epirus, groundwater resources are being overdrilled. Along large stretches of the coastline and on some islands the water table has been salinated. In Thessaly, Macedonia and Crete water quality has deteriorated due to the abuse of pesticides. In order to resolve these problems, Greece has to comply with European Union Directive 2000/60/EU on the protection and management of water. That means it has to specify river catchment areas and submit detailed environmental studies pointing to problems and suggesting solutions. None of this has been done. «Three years after the EU directive, Greece passed Law 3199/03,» explained Maria Mimikou, professor at the National Technical University’s department of water resources, hydraulic and marine projects. «The law stated that the Environment and Public Works Ministry should establish a central water resources service responsible for drafting programs to protect and manage the country’s water resources. This has not yet been done.» In addition, the country has to be divided into hydrological regions, based not only on surface water but on groundwater and coastal waters. «The directive also calls for administrative criteria,» explained Mimikou. «For example, the Mornos and Evinos rivers belong to Western Sterea, but they supply water to Athens. So they should belong to the same hydrological entity as the capital.» And therein lies one of the major problems. When the administrative and hydrological boundaries do not coincide, the regions refuse to cede their powers. Today Greece is already divided into 14 water departments on the basis of Law 1739/89. «Nevertheless, there are a large number of regions. France, for example, has only 14. We suggest that Greece should have only seven,» she explained. Another problem is the absence of environmental studies. «Studies exist but they have been carried out on the basis of a different mentality,» said Iakovos Ganoulis, UNESCO’s coordinator on the sustainable development of water resources in the Balkans. «The European Union does not want studies carried out by a commercial technical firm, but multidisciplinary studies. After all, the management of a country’s water resources is not a technical issue but an ongoing, complex one that involves conflicts with vested interests and the restructuring of a number of authorities. It calls for an integrated approach, with one agency and not dozens of overlapping ones. The main problem is that no one is dealing seriously with the problem.»