Public land being sold off at a discount

Public land is being sold off at a discount. That, unfortunately, is the message being sent by the draft bill on legalizing land encroachment and land-grabbers that the National Economy and Finance Ministry submitted to Parliament on Tuesday. Greece habitually acts in response to the needs of elections campaigns, but that cannot be a perpetual alibi for an outdated, unproductive practice. The ministry may be counting on collecting at least 700 million euros from land-grabbers, it may hope to gain electoral advantage, but the risk of encouraging another generation of land encroachment is far too heavy a price to pay. Of course, the government’s main, not entirely unfounded argument is that these are longstanding cases going back more than 20 years. Supporters of the bill argue the need for clearing up old cases, which in any case have been perpetuated, so that more recent issues can be tackled. This would be more convincing if it hadn’t been repeated so many times in the past. But the surplus of unkept commitments simply leads to the devaluation of any promises. Moreover, the amount the land-grabbers are being asked to pay is significantly less than what they would pay were they to buy the property today. So not only are aspiring land-grabbers not discouraged from encroaching on public property, but they are actively encouraged to do so. And, despite the fact that the draft bill rules out the possibility of legalizing illegally acquired property in areas subject to special environmental protection, archaeological sites and forests or reforested areas, it has prompted serious concern, especially in relation to forest protection. So far, every attempt at large-scale legalization has led to more encroachment on forestland. This becomes even more widespread when there are rumors that the constitutional provisions for the protection of forests are to be watered down. This makes it imperative that the draft bill be examined with great care.