The jobs-versus-environment debate ensues as government backs development.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 30/01/13
More than 3,000 anti-mining protestors staged a march in Thessaloniki in November. [AFP]
A gold mining operation planned for northern Greece has sparked a debate between those who see it as potential job bonanza during a period of record unemployment and environmentalists who fear it will ruin the area and hurt tourism.
Hellas Gold, 95 percent owned by Canada's Eldorado Gold Inc. and 5 percent by Greek construction company Aktor, plans to develop four mines in Halkidiki, which is known for its 300-year-old forests and nearby beaches.
Eduardo Moura, vice president and general manager for Eldorado in Greece, said the mines will bring money and work to Greece. Ninety percent of the workers would be local hires.
"Over the next five years we will be investing in excess of 1 billion euros in our projects," he told SETimes. "We will generate approximately 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in Greece,"
He said the government will collect more than 1.5 billion euros in taxes during the project's two years and that the company will protect the land and forests.
"We owe it to ourselves to ensure the best possible exploitation of wealth this country has to offer to drive growth and bolster the economy," Deputy Energy and Environment Minister Asimakis Papageorgiou told parliament recently.
Theodota Nantsou, policy co-ordinator for the World Wildlife Fund in Athens, told SETimes that, "If [Greece] plans to host a green economy, a sustainable economy, then these plans have no room. … With gold you have to use high levels of cyanide to get the gold out. The impact is very long-term and highly toxic."
About 420 acres of trees are to be felled, driving local residents' fears of dust and pollution.
George Markopoulos, general manager of Thracean Mining, a Greek company also owned by Eldorado, said environmental fears are being overstated.
"We have to be logical and we can protect the environment," he told SETimes. "There are some radical environmentalists, but the majority of the people want it."
Area residents have set up a protest committee. The main battle is over the mine complex's Skouries project, a 55-square kilometre region that is estimated to hold 7.5 billion euros worth of gold and copper.
About 300 protesters demonstrated in Athens on January 12th against the project. In November, more than 3,000 opponents turned out in Thessaloniki, about 13 kilometres from the project area.
"This will cause a great deal of damage to our natural reserves," said Thanasis Krommydas, an anti-gold campaign organiser. "[Greece] signs up to treaties to protect the environment with one hand and destroys the environment with the other."
Alexis Tsipras, head of the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), said forging ahead in a desperate quest for revenue is short-sighted.
"The Greek state has nothing to gain but environmental cost from the investment," he said.