ATHENS – The Greek government revamped its environmental rules Tuesday in a bid to boost investment and speed the country’s coronavirus economic recovery.
The new regulations adopted by parliament “set clear rules for environmental protection, but at the same time are drivers for a rapid and, above all, sustainable development” and will put an end to investment “plans being stuck in the drawer,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, adding it will end the reputation of a “Greece of pollution, rubbish and cesspits.”
But the legislation worries environmental groups and infuriates the opposition, which accuse the ruling New Democracy party of ramming through rules that favor the oil and gas industry while undermining green regulations.
The government spun the law as a way for Greece to slash red tape and modernize the country’s environmental legislation, which it said had scared off investors in the past.
The bill changes regulations on land use, environmental licensing, the management of protected areas and sells another stake in Greece’s power grid operator ADMIE, partly owned by State Grid Corporation of China. It will also allow oil and gas exploration in protected areas, while reducing the ability of local governments to block such investments.
“I have the impression that the government’s intention is to normalize a state of emergency caused by the pandemic” — Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza.
The legislation also makes it easier to invest in renewables, part of the government’s program to end the use of coal by 2028.
“Our goal is to go down from the eight years needed today to issue environmental permits to 150 days, because we cannot just stay inactive or be the country that investors are thinking of as never to mess with, especially after the coronavirus crisis,” said Greek Environment Minister Kostis Hatzidakis.
But environmental groups strongly oppose the legislation.
“The so-called modernizing bill is based on the outdated perception that the environment is an obstacle and not a guarantee for development and prosperity,” said Nikos Charalambides, director of Greenpeace in Greece. “Contrary to the PM’s declaration for a carbon-free economy, the amendments for the hydrocarbons appear to have come at the behest of the oil industry. “
More than 80 environmental and civil society groups and 30,000 citizens signed a petition asking for the bill to be withdrawn, which was handed over to Hatzidakis on Monday. A few hundred protesters gathered outside parliament as the bill was debated and lawmakers voted.
The opposition complained the government moved while parliament is operating during a health emergency.
“I have the impression that the government’s intention is to normalize a state of emergency caused by the pandemic,” said Alexis Tsipras, leader of the opposition Syriza party.
“We will not legalize this process,” he said before his MPs left parliament ahead of the vote. The bill passed by a vote of 158-56, with all 86 Syriza lawmakers abstaining.
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