WWF: Dear Mr Barroso …

Dear Mr Barroso,

WWF is writing to you again (original letter January 2012) to emphasise the critical environmental dimension of the commitments agreed between the Troika and the Greek Government in the framework of the programmes of economic adjustment.

Since 2010, when the first Economic Adjustment Programme (herewith “Programme”) was agreed, we have witnessed an important loss of legal and political safeguards for the protection of the environment and a diminution of the overall quality of life. Greece is now embarked on an even deeper crisis to come: ecological, social and economic. The elimination of legal provisions for the protection of the environment, the intensified legal uncertainty and lack of transparency about the costs on nature and citizens of this country from the austerity measures, the constant weakening of the already feeble environmental governance system and the absence of a coherent framework for a truly living economy, ‐ these are the incalculable costs of the measures imposed to date.

Using the austerity measures as legitimation, you are no doubt aware that different ministries in our country have launched a concerted legislative barrage which results in:

  • constantly undermining the environmental impact assessment and licensing system;
  • undermining the conservation framework for protected natural habitats (such as national parks and the Natura 2000 sites) with provisions favoring specific types of investments, primarily holiday resorts and new tourist villages;
  • declassification from protection status of ecologically precious forest and coastal areas;
  • endless environmentally destructive legalisation of illegal construction, even within legally protected areas;
  • continued refusal by the state to collect financial penalties of unaccounted millions of euros for illegal constructions along the coastal zone and on forested land;
  • privatisation through the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund of ecologically significant and legally protected areas, many of which have been designated as Natura 2000 sites, under the guise of easing the path for development of vacation homes and tourism resorts;
  • the overhaul of the spatial planning framework in order to allow the rapid approval of large investments, primarily in the area of tourism, contrary to specific or local land use and nature protection rules.

The recent announcement by the Ministry of Finance of a draft law on coasts has fueled an already heated state of unease and anger over the continued loss of environmental acquis. This draft law, which is included in the Programme as a commitment by Greece, would allow for the degradation of important parts of the coastal zone and promote a tourism development model based on the construction of large resorts and tourist villages. In the case of Spain, this has proven to be an environmentally and economically unsustainable development model.

WWF believes that there is a shared responsibility between the members of the Troika and the Greek Government for the environmentally dramatic consequences of the policies and measures agreed under the Programme. The Greek Government, under the threat of sinking deeper into the crisis, is overseeing measures that deregulate and undermine the prospects for the genuine development of a truly living and sustainable Greek economy. The members of the Troika are equally responsible for promoting and formulating measures of a development model based on narrowly defined economic objectives that will lead ineluctably towards a profound ecological deficit.

WWF urges you to rethink Greece’s unsustainable development model that you are supporting and even insisting upon. We believe it is essential for the short, medium and long‐term prosperity and stability of this country that you undertake a vital and urgent revision of the policies and conditions of the Programme. You must realize that it is necessary to incorporate urgently ecological and social sustainability indicators and safeguards in order to:

  1. Respect the environmental acquis and reinforce the protective measures for Greece’s natural capital, through clear and comprehensible legislation.
  2. Require the submission of all Programme updates to comply with strategic environmental assessment, in compliance with Directive 2001/42/EC (including the public consultation procedure), using ecological indicators to assess the impact on natural ecosystems and services;
  3. Formulate a national framework for the development of a living and long‐term sustainable economy.

The policies which are included in the Programme and implemented by the Greek Government are often presented as the only way to prosperity. They are not. As we have demonstrated in our report “A living economy for Greece”1 , Greece is endowed with a huge potential for truly sustainable development in ecological, social and economic terms.

The Economic Adjustment Programme for Greece needs to be brought into line with contemporary thinking and action on sustainable development in developed and developing economies alike. As a country we must be able to respond to the international, regional and national environmental challenges as reflected in the global agenda for sustainable development. Greece cannot remain a passive spectator in these developments, sacrificing its institutional framework and rules for protecting its natural capital in the name of an environmentally crippling programme for economic adjustment.

Given the enormous public attention and alarm about the issues raised in this letter, and believing that an urgent response is required from the public institutions responsible for devising and enforcing the joint Euro area/IMF bailout package, WWF intends to make this letter a matter of the public record. We look forward to receiving a reply from you to the issues raised here. We have sent a similar letter to Mr. J.M. Barroso at the European Commission and Mr. M. Draghi at the European Central Bank.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Long, Director WWF European Policy Office

Demetres Karavellas, Director WWF Greece

More…

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The Greek Ombudsman on the occasion of the World Environment Day

(Press Release, Athens, 5 June 2014)

Participating in the celebrations for the World Environment Day in its institutional capacity, the Greek Ombudsman focuses closely on the highly topical and crucial matter of the protection and management of the coastal zone. The recent publication of the Draft Bill on the delimitation and management of the coastal zone for the purpose of public consultation, in conjunction with the Draft Bills for the regulation of the possibility of state-owned property being purchased by private [legal or natural] persons and for the out-of-court settlement of property-related disputes between the State and private owners, justifies this Authority’s grave concern.

The risk of degrading the coastal environment through exhausting exploitation is inherent in the proposed regulations. The narrow and short-term conceptualisation of economic development increases the risk of damaging  coastal natural habitats, the already shrinking protected areas that are part of the Natura 2000 network, natural resources, the value of the landscape, and the quality of life.

The risks that arise from legislative policies that have been adopted over the last few years are: the creation of irreversible conditions, the degradation of the environment, and the erosion of natural habitats through the depletion of their productive capacity.

The present independent Authority, as it has pointed out in a recent special report and documents, as well as in older proposals (Annual Report 2005, p. 220; Annual Report 2004, p. 213 [both in Greek]) submitted to the ministers responsible [for these issues],  believes that it is imperative to manage the coastal zone in an environmentally sound manner and according to the principles of sustainable development. At the same time, having evaluated the recent legislative initiative, it highlights the potential risks and proposes that concrete criteria, procedures, or environmentally sound policies be adopted, so that the coastal environment can be protected and utilised and public property, as well as the citizens’legal rights, can be safeguarded.

The Greek Ombudsman, especially in the current economic and social circumstances, emphasises that safeguarding the citizens’ quality of life and respecting the preservation and protection of environmental goods, so that we don’t mortgage the natural legacy of the coming generations, is of the utmost importance.

For further information contact:

[Ms] Kallirroi Tzavara, tel. [+30]213 1306 610, mobile [+210]6979448887
[Mr] Petros Parayios, tel. [+30] 213 1306 625
[Ms] Demetria Papageorgopoulou, tel. [+30]213 1306 604

In Greece, a battle to reclaim the seashore as commons by Maria Hadjimichael

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A grassroots campaign is taking off against the proposed privatization and commodification of one of Greece’s last-remaining utopias: its coastline.

Seashores are one of the clearest manifestations of what is generally considered to constitute “the commons”: a place where access is free and the gratification of being present can be the same for all, irrespective of the size of their paycheck. Unfortunately, in real life this is not always the case. A seashore undisturbed by humans represents for many (even unknowingly) a utopian vision of what society can be in that grey area which is neither private nor state-owned.

However, actions such as those by Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, who recently proposed a bill threatening the right of access to the country’s beaches, are a burning reminder that the seashore — just like the square — is no longer a common space. Rather, it is a space that the government donates to the people by concession, until the opportunity arises to enclose and subsequently monetize and valorize the former common property. The Greek bill for the privatization of the seashore, besides proposing restrictions on the public’s longstanding constitutional right of free access to the coastline, also proposes to grant developers the right to appropriate the seashore and to provide amnesty to existing structures built in breach of current legislation.

There was an immediate public outcry in opposition to the bill. With the help of a group called ‘Save the Greek Seashore: A Citizens’ Initiative’ — a grassroots, nonpartisan mobilization that aims to “safeguard Greece’s unique and irreplaceable shoreline as part of humanity’s commonwealth” — the news about the bill spread fast through social media. The opposition was strong: more than 122,000 signatures were collected in a petition demanding the bill to be scrapped. Spearheaded by the people and with the support of environmental NGOs, the movement created such a storm that even members of the ruling parties are now jumping ship.

On Tuesday, May 13, 2014, the Greek government unexpectedly announced that the bill would be halted and reconsidered with potential amendments after the European elections, which took place on May 25. Even though this delay constituted a small victory for the movement, the coastline is far from safe yet, even more so because attempts to privatize beaches in Greece are nothing new.

Read on…

Maria Hadjimichael is a researcher in the governance of common resources, with a focus on marine issues, at Aalborg University in Denmark.

Press release – 15/05/2014

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In a short statement broadcast on 13 May, the last day of the public consultation on the proposed shoreline bill, State Minister Dimitris Stamatis recognized that the bill includes unclear, unsafe and problematic clauses. This is an important and encouraging message. It gives us the strength to continue to inform as many citizens as possible about the dangers of this bill, and to call on them to take a stand against it.
What drives us is respect towards our natural environment, which we see as our highest common good and as the true source of this country’s wealth. Managing the shores and coastline of Greece in a way that is thorough and coherent, respects extant laws and the Constitution, and is environmentally sensitive, is, we believe, the sole and most direct way of linking environment to development. Like thousands of our countrymen- and -women who raised their voices in the past two weeks, it is our conviction that the bill failed to meet this fundamental need and was, therefore, not in the public interest. This is what galvanised us into action, mobilising as many others as we could reach. This is why we contacted political associations, parties and individuals.
We who initially set up the group “Save the Greek Shoreline” will continue our efforts in the same spirit of cooperation and consent. Our guiding principle will continue to be this: that if and when the shoreline bill is tabled again, it must be in a form that respects our common convictions regarding the cultural, environmental, economic, social and historic value of our shoreline. This value has been eloquently described by the hundreds of thousands of citizens, in Greece and abroad, who have worked together – and continue to do so – in every way possible in order to voice their opposition to the bill as submitted to public consultation on 17 April.

Stop the destruction of the Greek shoreline

by Ares Kalandides

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How many times have we heard sarcastic remarks about armchair activism on social media, belittling the politics of Facebook or Twitter? And it is true that for most, that’s the sum total of their activism. A like. A click. Yet here is one internet campaign, “Stop The Destruction Of Greek Seashores” which has succeeded in breaking through cyberspace and moving citizens to action.

Evidently, preventing the destruction of our sea coasts is a cause that unites people of all kinds, across the political spectrum. The Greek shoreline is so vital to our national imagination that when it is threatened, we feel threatened ourselves. It’s not only about our freedom to use the beach; it’s about the intrinsic value of our natural environment, about the Greek landscape as an integral part of our identity. Maybe that’s why 15,000 people felt moved to join the Facebook page “Stop The Destruction Of Greek Seashores” in less than four days.

The group behind the page, which new volunteers are constantly joining, calls on all Greek citizens to submit their comments to the government’s public consultation page, and to the individual articles of the bill (http://bit.ly/1q01GJf); to contact their representatives in Parliament (http://www.vouliwatch.gr/); and to ask local municipal candidates to state their position.

We can all agree that the current condition of our seashore is far from ideal. Illegal buildings, litter, and other abuses show that it’s not enough to have the right laws in place – we must also possess the political will to enforce them. I believe we also agree that tourism is an important source of income for the country and for many households, and likely to continue so for many decades yet. Tension between the goals of development for tourism and the long-term protection of the environment is to be expected. The value of low-impact tourism is not self-evident nor is such a model easily achieved; it requires strategic thinking and coordinated action.

With the proposed legislation, the government purports to bring order to the chaos of current seashore policy. Instead, it invites immediate environmental disaster and undermines the medium-term prospects of the tourism sector itself.

Submitted to public consultation on 17 April, the bill effectively allows unrestricted development of the shoreline for commercial use. In practice, this opens the door to all kinds of abuse (beach umbrellas as far as the eye can see), the gifting of various parcels of land to particular businesses (at the expense of everyone else’s interests), landfills changing the shape of the coastline (they are explicitly permitted in the legislation), the legalisation of illegal buildings (for a consideration, of course) – and subjects local authorities to all kinds of pressure. In short, any possibility of coherent planning is swept aside, to be replaced by commercial decisions.

The proposed law removes restrictions not just on light, seasonal construction (such as umbrellas, sun-loungers and bars), but also on all kinds of construction for profit. For example, if a business can demonstrate that a proposed structure is a commercial necessity, it is then allowed to build all the way to the surf, or even extend the shoreline with landfill if its business interests require so (Article 13). The only mention of public access is so worded as to make it secondary to commercial considerations (Article 10)“In the concession agreement are included terms that guarantee public access after justified consideration of the interests that are served or hurt by the concession”. Illegal structures are simply legalized, as per the usual, disastrous Greek practice of the last 30 years, which encourages illegality by rewarding it.

Moreover, this bill was submitted to public consultation in the run-up to Easter, with the consultation period ending in the election season, thus hampering any response from local authorities and political parties. Additionally, it was submitted by the Ministry of the Economy, in its capacity as administrator for national assets rather than, as might be expected, by the Ministry of the Environment.

No one would deny the need to bring order to the rules and regulations governing the use and protection of coastal areas, to find a solution for illegal structures and in particular to police and enforce the existing legal framework. Yet nothing in the proposed bill promises any improvement along these lines. The governing principle of the bill is quite baldly stated: “everything is negotiable”.

Stay tuned for price tags on the Greek landscape.

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Sign the petition to save the Greek coastline

http://www.change.org/petitions/greek-goverment-stop-proposed-legislation-for-the-greek-shoreline?fb_action_ids=10203543524850770&fb_action_types=change-org%3Arecruit&fb_ref=__LFCccWCclT

Further information
Blog: https://savethegreekseashore.wordpress.com

Via Places

Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/715686115141235/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/aigialoi

Twitter: @SaveGRSeashore

Hashtag on Twitter: #SaveGreekCoast

PRESS RELEASE May 5, 2014

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Outcry over bill allowing unlimited construction on Greek coastline

Athens: Environmental organisations, social media activists, as well as political parties and several public figures have denounced a proposed law that would end free public access to the Greek coastline, remove deterrent provisions to construction, provide an amnesty to those who have built illegally on it and have adverse environmental consequences of a permanent and severe nature.
Proposed by the Minister of Finance Yannis Stournaras as a means to “release the potential for economic development that the coastal areas offer”, the bill, if enacted, will dismantle the existing legal regime that has (a) helped Greece keep largely free of concrete high-rises that blight coastal regions of other countries and (b) allowed the public’s free access to all coastal areas.
The bill has raised public attention and strong criticism as it:

  1. Grants to developers the right to appropriate, build on and even modify the coastline altering a landscape that has remained unchanged for centuries,
  2. Restricts the public’s longstanding right of free access to the coastline,
  3. Grants an amnesty to existing structures built in breach of existing legislation,
  4. Permits seasonal beach establishments (e.g. beach bars, umbrellas and summer beds) to occupy the entire length of beaches,
  5. Is expected to have a permanent, material and adverse impact on the environment including on the coastal and marine ecosystems.

Driven to significant extent by social media activity, public consultation on the bill, which only opened on April 17 2014 and was originally set to close on 2 May 2014 has now been extended to 13 May 2014, with the Ministry of Finance conceding that “citizens’ participation and contribution to the consultation process has raised issues that must be further examined”.
For more information contact the citizens’ initiative ‘Save The Greek Seashore’ at savethegreekseashore@outlook.com

For announcements and updates, follow the initiative on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/aigialoi or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaveGRSeashore

Photograph by Lizzie Calligas
Available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported CC BY-NC 3.0