Environmental Policies

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The crises that became visible in the 1970s and closer integration with Western Europe have brought a proliferation of environmental legislation. By 1990 over 800 issue-specific environmental laws and decisions were in force, but few comprehensive laws tied them together into policies that could be enforced nationally. Among major international environmental agreements, Greece is a signatory of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances and the International Tropical Timber Agreement of 1983; the nation did not sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); it signed but did not ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The constitution of 1975 gives the state authority over Greece's environment and natural resources. The National Council for Physical Planning and the Environment, established in 1976, has concentrated on industrial planning rather than environmental issues. The authority of the Ministry of Environment, Town Planning, and Public Works, which was formed in 1980, has varied under different administrations and has suffered from internal contradictions when the ministry is assigned large public works projects. Meanwhile, all ministries whose activities affect the environment have maintained independent environmental departments not answerable to the environmental ministry.

The basic principles of Greece's environmental policy are set forth in the 1986 Law On the Protection of the Environment. The law, which provides for no autonomous environmental regulatory agency, requires nearly 100 implementation decisions by government agencies--many of which had not been enacted by 1994 --before going into full effect. The unwieldy nature of the bill has promoted bureaucratic obstructions at many points prior to approval.

The first set of standards for atmospheric pollution in Athens emerged in 1982 as part of a United Nations-sponsored pollution control project that had been initiated by the military junta. The standard traffic limitation measures in the central city, allowing private vehicle access only on odd or even days, are tightened when pollution indexes are especially high, which happened only nineteen times between 1982 and 1989. Heavy fines are levied for violation of the access law. A large pipeline, designed to carry industrial waste from the Athens region to biological treatment facilities, was eight years behind schedule in 1992, casting doubt on the likelihood that the treatment facility would be built.

Land-use policy is a very controversial issue in Greece. The need for new landfills is urgent because landfills are crucial to the solid-waste management program, but agreement on sites has been extremely rare. Experts consider an industrial decentralization policy especially urgent to end random construction of new plants and to prevent further concentration in the urban centers of Athens and Thessaloniki. Some financial disincentives to further construction in Athens are in place, as are financial incentives to construction elsewhere. But no overall policy is in effect.

Greece has been lax in enforcement of the environmental guidelines of the European Community (EC) and its successor, the European Union (EU), affecting Greece's international waters. Three EC directives on water-resource protection and the international water management conventions of Ramsar and Verni are not followed by Greek authorities.

Environmental politics in Greece are characterized by strong special-interest groups and a relatively weak environmental movement that began in 1972. The Greek political tradition of close patronage relationships between government figures and private citizens of influence has distracted administrations and fragmented public pressure on environmental issues. This phenomenon was most obvious in the mid-1980s, after the [[Panhellenic Socialist Movement|Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Panhellinion Socialistiko Kinima--PASOK)) had been elected on a platform promising significant environmental improvement. In that period, a series of ambitious reforms was defeated by specialinterest pressure, and by 1984 PASOK had forsaken the bulk of its environmental platform for the duration of its 1981-89 tenure.

Policies attacking industrial pollution are resisted by the Association of Greek Industrialists and well-organized groups of small industrialists, both of which carry considerable influence with the economic ministries and the leaders of both major parties. Innovations such as lower tariffs on fuel-efficient imported vehicles and development of alternative mass transportation meet the opposition of economic ministries that gain much revenue from taxes on vehicles. Well-organized Greek automobile dealers also have a stake in continued use of privately owned vehicles.

Ministries responsible for infrastructure projects and the construction industries that carry them out oppose land-use and conservation policies. Stefanos Manos, an industrialist and a pioneer of environmental planning as a minister in the government of Konstantinos Karamanlis in the late 1970s, was forced to resign in 1979 because his program would have required building projects to include services such as sewers and roads. In 1982 industry pressure ended a major PASOK urban reconstruction program, replacing proposed stricter standards with more lenient ones that exacerbated the problem of uncontrolled urban land use. In the New Democracy-ND (Nea Demokratia--ND) administration of Konstantinos Mitsotakis (1990-93), the policy of stimulating economic activity further strengthened ministries and enterprises involved in building the country's infrastructure. In this period, the Ministry of Environment, Town Planning, and Public Works was not able to reconcile conflicts between environmental and economic interests because government agencies resisted transferring their environmental responsibilities.

Regional groups started mobilizing to promote environmental protection in the mid-1970s. Beginning in 1973, a number of major regional efforts were incorporated into national political agendas and thus achieved many of their goals. In the 1980s, demonstrations began in Athens (including one in 1986 after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union), and the ideological basis of organizers became more sophisticated. Nevertheless, in the early 1990s Greece's environmental social consciousness remained quite fragmented and localized, and efforts by "green" groups to achieve representation in the Assembly have been marginally successful at best.

In the early 1990s, progress in environmental protection in Greece was the result of increasing media attention to escalating problems; also of pressure from the EC and the EU to uphold national and international obligations and pass environmental legislation; of major decisions made by the Council of State, the highest administrative court in the nation, overturning antienvironmental government policies; and of the activity of a small group of autonomous nongovernmental environmental organizations. Those organizations have mobilized citizens in response to specific issues such as the 1991 proposal to ease industrial location policy by the Ministry of Environment, Planning, and Public Works and the continuing need for urban smog control. Fishing interests organized an especially successful organization, Helmepa, to oppose water pollution. Activist groups have brought legal proceedings successfully before the Council of State and agencies of the EU.