Ministry for the Environment in name only?

Ministry for the Environment in name only?

It was not, unfortunately, the first time we have seen a ministry pull such a stunt. In this case, it was the Ministry for the Environment, which put to public consultation (initially for just a week, which is below the minimum prescribed by law) a draft law containing dozens of diverse provisions, even though the main “theme” concerned the development of offshore wind farms.

The legislation had been doing the rounds of the ministry’s offices for months, gathering more and more provisions pertaining to matters of the environment, town planning and energy. By the time it reached Parliament, it had swollen from 97 to 178 articles and even included additions from other ministries. It grew further to reach 201 articles by the time it was voted through the House recently, becoming Law 4964/2022. It was, in short, another shining example of shoddy, off-the-cuff legislative work.

The legal framework for protected areas should be determined by experts and scientific evidence, with the aim of safeguarding those areas

The law gained public prominence, however, because of a series of provisions concerning protected habitats, as the Environment Ministry sought to allow uses of and activities in Natura areas that are blatantly contrary to their listed character. During the debate in Parliament at the committee level, these specific provisions met with a fierce backlash from scientific bodies and environmental organizations – not to mention most of the opposition – and the entire chapter was eventually withdrawn on the eve of the law’s ratification.

Was it withdrawn because reason had finally prevailed? No. It was political management of a sticky situation. In fact, Environment Minister Kostas Skrekas himself confirmed that the chapter was being withdrawn for “further deliberation” and would be brought back to the House in just over a month’s time, in September. Let’s not kid ourselves about what those deliberations will entail. The legal framework for protected areas should be determined by experts and scientific evidence, with the aim of safeguarding those areas. Instead, the provisions submitted by the Environment Ministry were obviously dictated by economic interests. So, based on what interests will the further deliberations be carried out?

Given Greece’s recent conviction for failing to adequately protect its Natura 2000 sites and its even more recent referral to the European Court of Justice over environmental licensing procedures, the ministry ought to have been more careful. If anything, it ought to have been more mindful of its proper role, as described by its name.

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