A controversial draft bill on coastal development prepared by the Finance Ministry has been temporarily “frozen” by the Greek Government following reactions of environmental organizations, citizens and even MPs.
The draft bill, among other provisions, lifts all restrictions on the maximum area designated for constructions for business purposes (beach bars, umbrellas, sun beds) and abolishes the unrestricted right of free access to beaches by the public.
Upon announcing the “freeze” of the draft bill, State Minister Dimitris Stamatis said the government wants public consultation on the draft bill to be “thorough” and added that the government would take a final position after the European Parliament elections (25 May) after examining results and conclusions. The public consultation on the draft bill ended on 13 May.
Environmental groups take action
Once the draft bill was initially put up for public consultation, the environmental protection group WWF Greece had asked Greek MPs to block the “ecologically criminal” bill claiming that it would damage Greece’s tourism sector in the long term.
On 14 May, the head of the protection group, Demetres Karavellas, met with the finance ministry’s general secretary for public property, Avraam Gounaris, and handed over a petition launched by AVAAZ.ORG with 111,930 signatures of people that opposed the bill.
“Greece needs a really clear, effective, feasible and necessary protective bill for the country’s coastal zone, one according to scientific criteria. The draft bill put up for public consultation is light years away from this,” WWF Greece said in an announcement.
The draft bill also makes it possible for businesses to simply pay fines to legalize unlicensed constructions on Greek beaches. Meanwhile, the Greek Environment Ministry has an ongoing campaign to demolish illegal constructions including ones on beaches.
On its part, the Society for the Environment and Cultural heritage “Elliniki Etairia,” said that a prerequisite for Greece’s economic recovery is to encourage investments that are friendly to the environment and the local community.
“The country’s unique environment is its prime comparative advantage and its protection is a growth driver,” the group said.
“Elliniki Etairia” underlined that Greece’s natural wealth should be preserved and not destroyed permanently under the excuse of “business development” based on a model that has already been proved to be a failure (having been implemented in other countries such as Spain and Ireland).
According to the group, the draft bill ignores European and national legislation, which require the protection of the coastal zone (i.e. the protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management).
Greek tourism sector voices opinion
After having examined the draft bill on coastal development put up for public consultation, including the some 900 comments made in regards to its content, the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) released a statement on the matter.
“The aim (of the bill) should be in the direction of balanced development, improvement of the living standards of society and protection of the environment,” the association said.
SETE stated that the association is in favor of quality tourism development. “The framework of the draft bill is moving in the right direction as to the necessity of identifying coastal setback lines, reducing red tape, facilitating the licensing procedures for beach concessions and the implementation of projects that could be carried out on beaches by hotels,” SETE said.
However, the association underlined that Greek lawmakers must reply to all concerns that have arisen from environmental organizations and citizens.
“Answers must be documented and given without haste so as to create the legislative requirements for the desired quality tourism development, while respecting the environment, the public nature of the coasts and the citizens’ free access to them,” SETE added.