ATHENS – Facing thousands of protests on a petition and a growing alliance against a plan to allow almost unchecked development on Greece’s coast, the coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has decided to revise the measure to prevent a clash with environmentalists and critics.
Groups such as WWF and Greenpeace had bitterly blasted the idea they said would destroy one of the country’s greatest tourism assets as happened with runaway development in Spain, just as Greece is enjoying a second straight record year for visitors, many lured by undeveloped areas as well as those packed with tavernas and clubs.
Environment Minister Yiannis Maniatis indicated that the new coastal bill would focus on introducing rules needed to clearly define the shoreline. “The only goal of the necessary regulations should be the creation of a modern tool to delineate the coastline… throughout the country in a short period of time,” he said.
The government withdrew the bill earlier this year after environmental groups and thousands of citizens criticized its content and signed petitions to prevent it passing through Parliament. The original legislation foresaw the relaxation of restrictions on construction and commercial activity next to the sea.
The bill, which has been prepared by the Finance Ministry, would have allowed building on the area designated for beach concessions – such as bars, umbrellas and sun loungers – while abolishing the right to unhindered access to the coast for the public.
The proposed measures would also have permitted permanent construction on beaches for commercial purposes, while making it possible for businesses to pay fines to legalize unlicensed constructions.
But, feeling the heat and facing criticism he was selling off the seashore for a song to satisfy the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), Samaras’ government relented.
Officials said upon review it was determined all it had to do to meet Troika requirements for privatization was to create clearer legislation for the delineation of the Greek coast to protect public property instead of destroying it with construction. Only about 10 percent of Greece’s coastline has been clearly defined and protected from certain activities.
The coalition also feared that it would face a protracted battle with the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and other opposition parties who criticized the original draft law. SYRIZA recently reached out to environmental groups and others in a bid to create a united front against the bill.
The final content of the new bill will be finalized over the next few days during talks between Maniatis, PASOK officials and Samaras’s office.
It has not yet been decided if it will be tagged onto a forestry bill which would allow construction in the woods and as the government also wants to permit building in green space and parks in a desperate bid to bring in cash at almost any cost.
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