The bill which seeks to open the way for widespread commercial exploitation of beaches and coastal property would effectively do a way with a number of long-standing protections which restrict developments and preserve the open access to the sea-front for the public which is enshrined in the Greek constitution. It will also open the road for illegal developments already built to be legitimised, thus rewarding developers who have previously deemed the law beneath them.
The draft law has provoked angry reactions from citizens and environmental organizations who maintain that it will open the way for large developments and beach privatizations which in the long run will ultimately degrade the Greek coastline and the country’s potential for sustainable tourism, thus repeating the mistakes made by countries such as Spain where extensive developments on the coast now blight many areas.
Specifically the law would do away with all restrictions on the maximum area of a beach that is available to permanent commercial exploitation through concessions such as rented umbrellas, sun loungers and bars. Currently such concessions on a beach can be no greater than 500 square meters separated by undeveloped buffer zones of at least 100 square meters. The bill would make it possible for even large beaches in Greece to be carpeted from end to end with umbrellas and beach bars.
Furthermore, the law opens the way for buildings to be constructed right on the water’s edge, even extending the coastline through earthworks into the sea. The only requirement for such developments to be green-lighted is that local authorities must deem the development as ‘absolutely necessary for the achievement of the business goals’ of the enterprise in question. Effectively this means that coastal hotels will be able to build and extend their grounds right to the water’s edge.
The law will also open the way for illegal buildings built on the seafront and used for commercial purposes (and not residences) to be legalized given payment of a fine. This is a step that even previous legislation which allowed for the legalisation of illegal buildings in the country stopped short of taking, as it was deemed to run counter to the constitution. Yet today’s leadership of the Finance Ministry apparently has little time for such constitutional niceties. The move also undermines an ongoing effort by the Environment Ministry to demolish such buildings.
Finally the law will also remove the right of citizens to access the sea-front. This is a right clearly enshrined in the Greek constitution which deems the shoreline as public property which citizens have a right to access. The bill would allow private companies to obtain exclusive right of use of beaches requiring only that conditions are imposed ‘which will secure the public’s access following reasoned balancing of the interests which are facilitated or impaired.’
What is most clear from the bill is that the current administration interprets the term ‘public land’ not as areas which belong to all the Greek people, but as areas that belong to the government and which it can sell to whomever it likes, and under whatever conditions it sees fit in order to bolster its short-term finances.
Perhaps most telling is the fact that the bill which seeks to (de)regulate the ‘development’ of beaches and coastlines was not drafted by the Environment Ministry which is actually competent for such matters, but by the bean counters at the Finance Ministry who are conditioned to believe that sound long-term planning is purely an exercise in making numbers on spreadsheets add up, regardless of the actual effects their decisions have on the country in the real world.
Stupidity is probably not too strong a word for this exercise in selling out Greece’s long-term advantage (it’s unique and largely unspoilt coastline) in the service of short-term targets cooked up by European and IMF technocrats whose deficiencies and narrow-mindedness are apparent to anyone who has visited a Greek unemployment office.
One can only hope that the bill which is expected to be voted on after the European elections will meet enough resistance to suffer the ignominious defeat it so richly deserves.