From: KATERINA BATZAKI, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published October 17, 2013 10:37 AM

Greece Considers Sacrificing Environment to Save Economy

In crisis-hit Greece, government decisions taken in haste and despair to save the country from default, risk having a serious impact on the environment. A new bill seeks to relax restrictions on construction of public and private forestland even for those areas, which are considered protected.

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A joint statement by the country's biggest environmental organizations said that the legislation would be destructive for the environment and harmful to the economy and development of the country. The statement was signed by 10 organizations, including WWF, Greenpeace, MOm and the Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage. Under the would-be legislation, which was made available to the public for ten days, hotels would be able to expand into wooded areas while new tourism developments such as golf courses and spas could also be constructed on forestland. WWF says that the bill seeks to scrap protection of environmentally important areas covered by sparse and low vegetation. WWF Head in Greece, Dimitris Karavelas, has said that the biggest problem of this law is that it suggests the declassification from a protected status of about 15 percent of Greek territory, mainly in the islands and coastal areas. "The draft law opens up areas that used to be protected to various forms of development and it legalizes a number of developments in the past where financial penalties were pending," said Karavelas. 

Environmental encroachments in Greece are not new

When the 2009 fires were raging in eastern Attika, they broke out in a forested suburban region known for its illegal ribbon development, where thousands of illegal homes have been legalized ahead of successive elections by incumbent governments. This area is also expected to undergo further development with a population increase as a result of new urban plans.

In 2011 the government at the time asked Greeks to pay penalties to the state for building homes without permits in return for which they were allowed to save them from demolition. The Environment Ministry assured the Greek public at the time that this was part of the process to put the properties "in order." It said that they would be included in a new framework being developed for illegal properties.

More than 500,000 properties have either gone through these schemes or are in the process of doing so. This has raised almost 800 million Euros (1.08 billion dollars) for the government by the end of February 2012. About 530 million Euros (722 million dollars) came from penalties and the rest from processing fees that applicants had to pay. It also meant a considerable source of income for the debt-stricken state.

Read more from ENN affiliate: Worldwatch Institute.

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