Posted on 13 July 2022
The bill announced last week by Environment and Energy Minister, Kostas Skrekas, marks another serious degradation of the institutional framework for protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity.
In an unprecedented short and clearly pretentious consultation that ends tomorrow morning 13.7.2022, the bill attempts, among other things:
- The further deterioration of the internationally accepted category of strictly protected areas (which the European Commission requires the member states to cover at least 10% of the territory). In particular, the bill allows within these areas the development of an extended number of activities that are incompatible with any notion of strict protection, such as the construction of squares and "linear transport infrastructure" (i.e. roads), electricity storage and transport facilities, telecommunication facilities, recreational fishing and free grazing, etc.
- The burdening of all protection zones in Natura 2000 sites with new uses that were not prescribed in the already problematic regime. In particular, the construction and operation of tourist accommodation and other tourist infrastructure, RES facilities, and camping facilities can now be planned in nature protection zones (i.e. in the second type of strict protection zones), whereas in all categories (with the exception of "absolute" protection) mining activities are now provided for, including hydrocarbon extraction.
- The further deterioration of the already problematic process of environmental impact assessments (EIA), as it foresees that EIA assessors will be paid directly by the proponents of the projects they assess, creating thus a relationship of clientelism with all sorts of implications, which invalidates the independence that must govern the system of environmental impact assessments, as set in EU law.
- To deride the concept of public consultation, requiring the interested parties to study and comment on a 95-clause bill in less than a week. In fact, the ministry shortened the deadline for submitting comments by half a day, making the participation of citizens and other stakeholders almost impossible.
The bill also predetermines the content of the presidential decrees for the protection of Natura 2000 areas that Greece has scandalously delayed for 10 years, providing piecemeal procedures for the continuation of existing and the implementation of new projects and activities regardless of the provisions of the presidential decrees and the ecological needs of protected habitats and species.
The change in legislation will further delay the completion of the already unacceptable backlog of the Special Environmental Studies which are required for the issuing of presidential decrees.
Just a few months ago, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conference, the government pledged to "champion the full implementation of EU environmental legislation" stressing "that the adoption of a protective regime for all Natura 2000 areas will be completed by the end of 2022, through a fully transparent and inclusive process". This bill does exactly the opposite! Since the enactment of law 4685/2020, the country has been experiencing an unprecedented and ongoing deterioration of legislation for the protection of biodiversity, while it has been condemned by the Court of Justice of the EU for unjustified and chronic violation of the Directive for Natura 2000 areas.
The government and the relevant ministry should live up to their responsibility for effectively safeguarding the country against the climate and ecological crisis.
The environmental organizations are asking the government and the ministry to withdraw the chapters of the bill concerning environmental permits and protected areas. The government must take immediate action to fulfil its obligations under EU biodiversity law and complete the legal protection of Natura 2000 sites as soon as possible.
- Hellenic Society of Environment and Culture
- Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature
- Hellenic Ornithological Society
- Society for the protection of Prespa
- Ecological Recycling Society
- WWF Ελλάς