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Is Greece Greening?

By George Tsolakis (Ecocity).

Greece just experienced the most quiet pre-elections period in my living memory. No big crowd gatherings in streets and squares, no shouting’s, no flags waving, no big fuzz. I assume we didn’t abolish our Mediterranean idiosyncrasy over night. It’s rather a reflection of people’s disappointment and lost faith in politics. On the other hand, the global attention was huge. Almost a thousand journalists arrived to cover the elections, denoting the importance of the events. Most press attention goes to the demand for debt-cancelation and the anti-austerity line of the new coalition of a big left wing and a small right wing party (SYRIZA and ANEL). But there might be another new line behind these spotlights as well – with Greece turning Green.

SYRIZA doesn’t have a clean cut description of its environmental program, as austerity and dept are the biggest concern. But the Greek counterpart of Greens Europe are a part of SYRIZA and many of their issues were introduced and hailed by SYRIZA, although no strict commitments were made so far. As part of SYRIZA’s promise to make a much smaller and cheaper government, the Ministry of Environment has been merged with Agriculture and Industry. The new ministry will be called Ministry of Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Ministry. This worries communities who have struggled for years for a stand-alone ministry of environment – but it may not necessarily mean that care for the environment will be downgraded. Giannis Tsironis, a former ecologist and activist of the Green’s will become Deputy Minister of the Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Ministry.

In the past, SYRIZA was deeply engaged with the anti-mining protestors, for example at the new gold mining explorations in the protected area of Chalkidiki. Foreign corporations accused to mine without proper permits have divided the community and created an atmosphere of violence. Environmental action groups in Greece have high hopes now that the party who supported them is in power – but will SYRIZA stay on their side? From the first day in office the new government has taken a radically different line towards foreign companies: Chinese investors were told the privatization of a big harbor is cancelled and Big Hotel chains were told that no more permits for All-inclusive resorts will be given. Speaking on the Skouries gold mine operated by Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold Corp, Mr Lafazanis, the new Minister of Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy, told on Reuters “We are absolutely against it and we will examine our next moves on it”. Environmentalists in Greece, Europe and beyond look forward to that next move.

UPDATE on 16/02/15

Last Thursday we had statements about goldmines in Chalkidiki from Mr Tsironis – deputy minister of Environment. Mr Tsironis stated that the ministry will ask for all permits of the company and reexamine them. The legal councilor of Mr Tsironis added that their government would not accept law any infringement and they will check whether the gold mining activities are according to laws, mining legislation and Greek Constitution.

Opposition of the government was reaffirmed during the parliamentary speech for the announcement of the new government’s program. Minister of Environment, Panagiotis Lafazanis told parliament. “We are against the gold investment in Skouries and we will use all possible legal means to back our position”. He added that “In any case we will support all workers at the mines.”

More info:

The Guardian recently took a look at the green credentials of the new government in Greece – arguing that they send very mixed signals.

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