Mining in protected areas and a reduction in restrictions are among a list of demands that mining firms have put to the government in moves they argue will help to boost the economy. At a meeting held yesterday by the Technical Chamber of Greece, Efthymios Vidalis, president of the Greek Mining Enterprises’ Association (SME), said that mining companies should be given priority in the use of land. The companies are seeking the right to dig up areas protected by the European Union’s Natura scheme which makes up 19 percent of the country. Natura is a European network of protected sites which represent areas of high value for natural habitats and species of plants and animals that are rare, endangered or vulnerable. According to SME, 60 percent of the country’s mineral wealth is located in these areas. In a bid to further increase the pressure on the government, SME argues that EU law allows for the mining of Natura areas on the grounds that the matter is classified as being of national importance. Vice President of the Council of State Costas Menoudakos responded by saying that mining activity should be dependent on zoning plans that take into account not only nature but also social and economic parameters. SME consists of a number of the country’s largest companies, including S&B Minerals and Aluminium of Greece. It is also seeking favorable treatment from the government, which is preparing a national zoning plan, a scheme that is recording and classifying all geographic regions of Greece. The calls for favorable treatment come after news in July that the Development Ministry has prepared a draft law which gives mining companies legal dominance at the expense of other businesses in areas where there are quarries. The bill, which has so far been met with opposition, proposes that in places where there are a cluster of quarries, the areas can be zoned off and other types of commercial activity will not be allowed, according to sources.