Four months after the voting of the controversial Law 4280/2014 on housing development in forests and woodlands, Greece’s Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change submitted to the Parliament a new bill, which further undermines the conservation value and clarity of forest legislation. Titled “Acts for contribution in land and cash – Land expropriation and other provisions” and submitted by Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras, it is expected to be voted before the December 17th parliamentary election for Greece’s new President of the Republic.
Was the forest burnt? Patience!In 5 years, you can do anything with it. (A kind donation by the Ministry of Environment).
According to WWF Greece, the bill constitutes the latest in a series of blows to legal certainty and clarity, as it is filled with tailor-made provisions that serve particular interests and sanction illegal land developments, whereas at the same time it contravenes settled case-law by the Council of State. In brief, the bill:
- Facilitates the declassification from protection status of forests and woodlands, even within protected areas.
- Cancels the reforestation status of burnt forests, if “reforestation is proved untenable within five years”. This provision allows, for the first time in Greek Law, the change of land use in forest lands that have been destroyed by wildfire or otherwise.
- Legalises forest conversion to agricultural land. During a December 11th hearing by the parliamentary Production and Trade Committee, WWF Greece reminded the attending MPs that planting olive and other trees in natural areas destroyed by wildfires has historically been the most effective and notorious way of encroaching on forests and woodlands and pursuing a change in their legal status.
- Sanctions illegally constructed churches and “establishments of cultural character”.
- Essentially abolishes the status and role of the forest maps as a means of final delineation and protection of forests and woodlands, since for the first time their revision will be allowed in order to “exclude lands, which are no more covered by forestry legislation”. Thus, forest maps are critically undermined to the status of a simple forest imaging tool of little legal significance.
“In the policy laundering context of the crisis and in the guise of “development”, the environment ministry reproduces the model that sank Greece: serving specific interests through tailor-made provisions, complex regulation, continuous legalisation of illegal land conversion and public land grabbing, intransparency, incomprehensible rules. In the background stands Greece’s forest capital, which has never been faced with such a torrential loss of protective legal framework. Whose interest is served by an incomprehensible, deeply flawed, constantly changing and legally uncertain institutional framework that fails to guarantee both the certainty of investment plans and environmental protection?”, wonders WWF Greece in its statement.
Using the economic crisis as excuse for the weakening of environmental legislation and policy has become particularly intense during the past two years in Greece. Armed with the policies and legal changes stipulated in the structural adjustment programme, many ministries have launched a relentless offensive targeting environmental legislation relevant to their policy domains. The Ministry for Environment, Energy and Climate Change in particular has embarked in a systematic effort to strip legislation on forests, impact assessment, spatial and urban planning of vital environmental safeguards. In the same time, the notoriously complex Greek legal corpus is becoming increasingly obscure and hard to interpret.