Environmentalists oppose the new measures, citing the need to preserve beaches and the public's right to access to the coast.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 31/07/14
The Greek government wants to allow development on the country's coastline. [AFP]
Citizen groups are mounting opposition to government plans to allow development on Greece's coastline, saying it is more important to protect the environment there.
The government introduced a bill that will facilitate permanent construction on beaches for commercial purposes, while making it possible for businesses to pay fines to legalise unlicensed construction.
The bill also lifts restrictions on the areas designated for beach concessions -- bars, umbrellas and sun loungers -- preventing the public from having unhindered access to the coast.
The government is trying to draw investors to Greece and use as much public property as possible to secure money for the budget, said to Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens.
"There is no other way to have economic growth in Greece unless money is put in the real market and, even better, if we can attract funds from abroad. All the necessary measures in order to protect the environment will be taken," Klapsis told SETimes.
But critics said the government measure will destroy Greece's most prized possessions -- its beaches.
"Enough is enough. The coastal bill must be withdrawn without a second thought," the Greenpeace branch in Athens said in a statement.
Greenpeace also said preserving the shoreline is a key for tourism, the country's biggest industry. "That should be the government's aim in order to improve the national economy," the organisation said.
Greece's development ministry said the measure will delineate the Greek coastline by simplifying construction on and management of coastal areas.
The Athens coastline is dotted with unlawful taverns and businesses that charge people to access the public beaches despite complaints of corruption.
The courts have barred local coastal neighbourhood authorities from demolishing the unlawful businesses on beach fronts.
"You need money, you are pressed by your lenders to act so what can you can do? Sell whatever you have, in this case, the country's coastline," Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens, told SETimes.
Sakellariou said the government is also pushing development plans in forests, green spaces and parks.
"Why destroy some peaceful places that everyone can visit now and construct huge hotels for limited access? We have enough hotels near beaches, why do we need more," he said.
Greece ranks 11th in the world with 13,676 kilometres of coastline.
Greek lawmakers should reject the plan, said George Chasiotis, legal coordinator for the Athens branch of the World Wildlife Fund.
"The consequences for this will be building and overdevelopment in less protected areas. Not only will this allow intensive development on the coast nearer the waterline, but it would legalise illegal buildings," Chasiotis told SETimes.
Chasiotis said the government has not produced any environmental impact studies.
"They want to change the legal definition of a beach so that there is actually less coast and less common area and less protected from building and want to open areas very near the water," he said.
But the Greek finance ministry, in a statement to Reuters, dismissed the criticism. It said accusations of environmental harm have nothing at all to do with the actual bill or the thinking behind it because protection of the Greek coast is a top priority.
"The economic importance of the coastal zone is huge, and the huge possibilities for economic development it provides must be unlocked," it said.
Major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) leader Alexis Tsipras, who opposes privatisation, said he is trying to form an alliance against coastal development.
"If something sums up the politics of piracy at the country's expense and in favour of the most opportunistic international capital, then this bill is it," Tsipras said.
But Klapsis said the critics are simply wrong and the government will protect the environment. "Greek laws are very strict on issues like that," he said.
What can the Greek government do to encourage development while protecting the environment? Share your opinion in the comments section.