Two consecutive governments share the same disregard for Greece’s environment and the potential for the development of a sustainable economy. Dramatic increase in EU environmental law infringement cases, new rulings by the Court of Justice of the European Union, and paralysis of the national parks, are the main features of a disappointing year filled with environmental deficit.
WWF Greece’s annual review of environmental and energy law, which was publicly announced on October 1st (in Greek), analyses the state of environment and energy law, case law and policy during the period from July 2014 to July 2015. The policy fields analysed in the review include access to information, environmental impact assessment, nature conservation, energy and climate change, waste treatment, air pollution, control of environmental crime, spatial planning, water resource management, and the operation of a national Green Fund.
Published only a few days before the programmatic statements by the new government, this year’s review gains particular political significance as it tracks the successes, failures and lost opportunities of the political and legislative initiatives of two consecutive outgoing governments: the coalition government of Antonis Samaras (until December 2014) and the re-elected coalition government of Alexis Tsipras (until July 2015).
The findings of this year’s review are the political compass for the incumbent government’s policies on environment, energy and, ultimately, the development of a living economy that can sustainably lead Greece out of the economic crisis.
The reporting period was marked by the following milestones and developments:
- Dramatic increase in the number of EU environmental law infringement cases: from 25 in 2013 to 36 in 2014.
- New rulings by the EU Court of Justice against Greece in important cases: on landfills (subject to financial penalty), inadequate protection status of the sea turtle Caretta caretta, and water pollution by nitrates.
- Paralysis of the national protected area system, due to lack of funding and political support.
- Approval of the National Strategy on Biodiversity, with the challenge of its implementation remaining open and uncertain.
- Approval by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance of a resolution on the conservation of small island wetlands in the Mediterranean; the resolution was officially submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat by Greece, and was supported by WWF Greece.
- Further diminution of the system of environmental governance through the incorporation of the environment sector to agricultural production and industry under the new Ministry of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy.
- Downgrading of the Environmental Inspectorate, which is now staffed with no more than 17 inspectors covering the entire country, and representing the system of environmental crime control.
- New round of legalisation of illegal constructions, which in many cases results in the abolition of imposed financial penalties, and the loss of substantial income (one single decision for example for an illegal construction may imply a fine up to half a million euros)).
- New round of shoreline and beach concessions within Natura 2000 sites, for the establishment of canteens, bars and sunbeds despite the relevant decision of the supreme court (Council of the State), without prior appropriate assessment of their impact on the ecosystem.
- Adoption and implementation of new anti-forest laws that allow for the development of settlements within ecologically sensitive forest areas and legalise confirmed law violations.
- Constant contempt of environmental legality by the Public Power Corporation (PPC), through the inclusion of its own illegal constructions in the new permits signed by the former Minister for Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy for the new 660MW lignite power plant Prolemaida V.
- Approval of final construction permits for the financially and environmentally unsustainable new lignite power plant Prolemaida V.
- Application to the European Commission for exclusion from the 2010/75/EU Industrial Emissions Directive of the old and polluting lignite plant Ptolemaida III, which will immerse Greece deeper into a fossil-fueled energy future.
- Worrying data on the extent and economic impacts of environmental crime in all Europe, Greece included, issued by Europol and Interpol.
- Increasing lack of transparency in the operation of the Green Fund.
- Dramatic decline in the quality of legislation and the transparency of the law making process, primarily due to the immeasurable lot of uncoordinated clientelist and oftentimes cryptic provisions, which serve particular interest groups and ‘settle’ established infringements, at the expense of ·legal certainty and in mockery of law abiding citizens and businesses.
- New bailout agreement, which includes provisions for the re-examination and possible repeal or improvement of environmentally catastrophic and clientelist legal provisions on forestry and spatial planning, which were voted in 2014.
«Recording primarily negative developments in the latest annual reviews is disheartening for our editorial team. The crisis can no more serve as an excuse for any rollback on environmental and sustainable development laws and policies. It is ironic that the lack of investments in Greece appears to be the only protector of the country’s natural wealth, since the environmentally destructive new legal framework remains largely dormant», remarks Theodota Nantsou, WWF Greece’s Head of Policy.
«Greece’s natural environment constitutes the country’s indisputable comparative advantage and must therefore be placed at the center of any serious and sustainable development policy. We hope that the new government will grasp the historically unique opportunity to face the economic crisis as a starting point for the necessary turn of our country towards a really sustainable and living economy», concludes Demetres Karavellas, WWF Greece’s General Director.
WWF Greece’s 11th annual law review is published in Greek. In due course, WWF Greece will produce English versions of selected chapters, beginning with energy & climate change, nature & biodiversity, and the environmental dimensions of the bailout agreements between Greece and its international creditors.
The first semester of the period covered in the 11th annual report of WWF is characterized by a frenetic infringement of important norms of environmental law and the legislative scope of environmental security, the implementation of which was showing a deficit diachronically, but constituted a vital conquered good that needed armor and not infringement. The process of degradation was not even covered by typical pretensions such as public consultation, scientific justification and legal support.
The second semester was characterized by the lack of a political plan and central management for the environment and the ecologically sustainable growth, while in this period important regression in issues of environmental governance and political inaction regarding urgent matters of environmental policy are also registered. During this period emphasis on fossil fuel kept on and despite the general political inaction environment permits for the exploitation of hydrocarbon and the promotion of the new lignite unit Ptolemaida V were rapidly advanced.