The coastal bill was submitted initially for public consultation in May but subsequently temporarily shelved in the run up to the European elections following an angry backlash that was unprecedented in its extent, even following years of unpopular measures. However the bill is expected to return to the forefront soon together with related forestry legislation as the government seeks the passage of both by the summer session of parliament (which is comprised of 100 as opposed to 300 MPs).
In this interview WWF Greece’s Theodota Nantsou clearly explains the key reasons why the WWF (together with nearly all other environmental and cultural NGOs) deeply oppose the bill. Not only will it lead to environmental degradation, she states, but will eventually fail on its own terms, destroying the main attraction that draws visitors to Greece in the first place: its natural and cultural wealth.
The bill was initially drafted by the Finance Ministry but aligns with a wider push by the Tourism Ministry that has somehow become enamoured with the idea of seeing huge modern ‘composite tourist villages’ built in the most pristine areas of the country even as it looks on idly while traditional Greek villages are abandoned and left to their fates. That there is not the infrastructure or resources (such as fresh water) to support the vast complexes also appears not to trouble the mandarins in the Tourism and Finance Ministries who are even happy to subsidize the privately built complexes by up to 50%, with money that presumably would otherwise be wasted on pensions or health spending or tax breaks for small businesses. The Environment Ministry, for its part, appears too busy hunting for oil to pay much attention to the debate or, heaven forbid, do its job of actually protecting the Greek environment.

Note the interview was first published in Greek by It is republished here
with permission. Translation by TPPi.
Interview by Zoe Georgoula
In a letter that WWF Greece sent to MPs on the 5th of May regarding the coastal bill, you talk of an ‘ecologically criminal proposal’. What makes you say that?
First of all the very purpose of the legislation as it was described in the introduction written by the then Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras in the context of the public consultation over the bill (and which was of a very limited duration). In his remarks there was no talk of protection of the environment – aside from a general reference. In contrast there is extensive reference to the financial value of the coastal zone.
All of the provisions of this legislation are intended to generate revenue. There is not one provision for the protection of the environment. So in this sense, it may be that the Finance Ministry did us a ‘favour’ given that there has been a slew of legislation with a similar intent, that has been put forward either as standalone bills or as articles hidden in unrelated bills and which has passed almost entirely unnoticed. This bill, however was so blunt in its aim that it provoked widespread protests.
More specifically the bill would legalise unlicensed constructions: until today legalizing illegal buildings on the shoreline and coastal zone was no-go area. Through this bill an attempt is being made to legalize the existing unlicensed constructions in these zones. Additionally earthworks in the sea itself would be allowed: it allows extension of the beach in proportion to the capacity of a business, meaning the bigger the business the more extensive the earthworks.
Furthermore today there exists a legal framework for the use of the shoreline which, while lacking, has certain safeguards for the protection of the coastal zone. That is, the existing legal framework provides for the concessionary use – and not the ownership – of sections of a beach, in order for someone to make commercial use of it, paying rent to the local municipalities and with no permanent constructions allowed. With the proposed bill the unexploited zone would be eliminated. That means that an entire beach could be covered from end to end with umbrellas, sunbeds, beach bars etc. without any room for someone to sit freely without paying a fee to business owners. At the same time the designation of the coastline as a public area is being eliminated through a provision which permits the owner of a business or property which occupies an area of the coastline, to leave a portion of the area occupied by the business free for common use. In other words it is left to the business owner to determine whether or not he will leave a portion of the coastline free for public use.
There is yet another facet of the bill on which we have not focused on enough: on lakeshores and areas bordering lakes, because the bill does not only cover the coastline but also the banks of rivers and lakeshores. The bill lists which lakeshores will be considered protected areas, leaving many without legal protections. Finally that which the law defines as a beach is not the same as what we commonly understand it to be, but that which a private entity which is exploiting a portion of the beach defines as the beach. Until today this demarcation was mandatory, the new bill would make it optional. Furthermore the current legal framework sets the boundary at 50 meters for the delineation of a beach, while the proposed bill reduces that to 10 meters. The beach, in other words, is not treated as an environmental phenomenon but as a measurable size.
This is not a Greek invention, this logic has also been tried in Spain where the head of the local WWF branch made a plea for the withdrawal of the bill and for the logic behind it to be abandoned.
The CEO of WWF Spain sent an open letter to the then Finance Minister and Tourism Minister and gave an interview to the magazine ‘Hot Doc’ where he noted that the same logic had not only led to beaches becoming off limits to citizens, but had destroyed at least 75% of the Spanish coastline through unrestricted construction. He stressed – indeed emphatically – that this destroyed the touristic product of Spain given that the first kilometer by width of the coastal zone of one third of the Spanish coastline has been built up. Of course that did not bring revenue, in contrast the unrestrained construction contributed to the property bubble.

 photo by Ben Sutherland via Flickr
Note that the European Protocol which has been signed, defines the coastal area that must be kept free of buildings as the first 100 meters from the sea. We are making that zone 10 meters despite being a country which needs its beaches in order to attract visitors.
There is a permanent government refrain which deems those who protest its plans as enemies of development. What sort of development are we talking about?
The development model which is being promoted by the Tourism Ministry concerns newly constructed tourist villages. It is not interested in the existing villages which are being abandoned throughout Greece or in the small business owners who are struggling. The ministry could support them by providing incentives – potentially to social enterprises – to renovate abandoned hotels etc in order to attract tourists.
Additionally the new villages will require new roads and a host of other infrastructure like waste management plants. Who is going to build all of that? No provisions have been made whatsoever. Is that development?
As WWF Greece, we have submitted a comprehensive proposal which we call a ‘Living Greek Economy,’ with which we demonstrate that Greece’s future lies in the protection of its natural and cultural capital and in the improvement of social entrepreneurialism, and we make a series of proposals. Legislation like the coastal bill aims for a sterilized tourism which develops in ghettoized areas. This is a model which has been demonstrated to only provide benefits for the few. Additionally, in 2013 there was an article included in an investment law which states that public funds will be used to subsidise large tourism developments, i.e. the sterilized villages, by up to 50%. This is their version of development.
How can we talk about making the environment and tourism a priority when as we speak the hydrolysis of chemical weapons is underway in our neighborhood in the Mediterranean with the tolerance and silence of the Greek government?
Indeed, but as far as the coastal bill is concerned there is something worse: it is not the product of dictates from some international organisations but legislation which is being proposed by the Greek government itself. It is not the result of the country’s subjugation as someone might say, but a national plan. We are talking about a huge crime which is passing through the Greek parliament. Additionally we know that the government is preparing to submit similar forestry legislation which will seek to remove protections for the most desirable areas. We must remain vigilant in order to protect our country’s natural heritage which they are preparing to sell off. It concerns all of us now because we won’t be able to reverse these crimes in the future.
You raise a very important point noting that this legislation is going through parliament, and indeed in the summer [as opposed to plenary] session.
It is not only an attack on the environment, but an attack on democracy.