LATEST: In response to the political outcry caused by the exception of illegal housing agglomerations from the forest maps, Alternate Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis submited to Parliament a legal rephrasing that clearly does not allow the declassification of illegally built forests and woodlands.
On 18 May, Greece's Government submitted to Parliament a new austerity law, which includes a chapter on the forest maps, currently the most important forest protection legal tool. In this chapter, the Environment Ministry includes a category of “violet” areas which are vaguely titled "housing agglomerations" and are described as existing illegal building blocks in forests & natural ecosystems. Violet areas will not be classified as forests and will not be made public. As a result, in case this new regulation is passed, the door for legalisation of illegal construction in forested lands will be open for the first time.
According to George Chasiotis, WWF Greece’s Legal Coordinator: “In Greece, forest maps are not only a constitutional requirement, but an essential tool for the protection of the environment, the still fragile economic recovery and the transparency of land uses and rights. By refusing to map the forested areas which have been illegally built, the Ministry of the Environment foregoes its responsibility to protect and restore valuable ecosystems that are mostly threatened by urban sprawl and private interests – the same private interests who have secretly lobbied for decades for similar rollbacks in environmental legislation. This is the latest of a string of negative legal developments in Greece. A few weeks ago, and despite a progressive court ruling last year, which called for the integrated management of Greece’s coastal areas, the Ministry of the Environment has signed off the concession of large coastal Natura 2000 areas to various local entrepreneurs, with little concern for the general public’s right of access or the environmental impact of those activities.”
The economic crisis is used as an excuse for the weakening of environmental legislation and policy. Armed with the policies and legal changes stipulated in the structural adjustment programme, many ministries have launched efforts to downgrade and alter the environmental legislation relating to their policy domains. Greece’s Environment and Energy Ministry, under the political leadership of Alternate Minister Yiannis Tsironis, has launched a relentless attack on forest and coastal legislation.
Earlier in May, Tsironis signed off a blank cheque for concessions of coastal areas within Natura 2000 sites, without any environmental impact assessment of the licensed uses (mainly for beach bars, umbrellas and sunbeds). This decision,which was not issued publicly, flouts a 2015 ruling by the Council of State, which ruled that similar concessions can only take place in a localized manner, after due consideration of local impacts. In response, 14 environmental groups co-signed a joint call for withdrawal of this decision.