On Thursday evening the Greek Parliament passed the highly contentious coastal exploitation bill which has caused an uproar from environmental groups since it was announced.

Incumbent political party New Democracy garnered 158 out of the 300 votes and all other parties voted against it, according to media reports.

Minister of National Economy and Finance Kostis Hatzidakis has claimed that the law aims at “better utilizing public coastlines and beach properties“.

The key point of contention for conservationists and civil society organizations is a further relaxing of already-loose and frequently violated rules that imposed a 100-meter coastline use limit to now just 30 meters from the sea.

According to OT, the new law introduces seven changes for the development of public property including rules related to the protection of the environment, citizens’ access to beaches, an “upgrade” to the tourism product, and a safeguarding of public interest.

In detail, the law provides for the: establishment of a process for the auctioning of rights to beaches by Greece’s land registry, not municipalities, through an electronic system to improve transparency; designation of protected and remote beaches, particularly those designated as Natura 2000, which cannot be developed; the establishment of stricter rules on the management of beaches and free access for citizens; and the establishment of obligations for those leasing beaches.

Moreover the law provides for the use of new technologies, by the public and its citizens alike, to improve the monitoring of beach concessions. First a citizens’ mobile application will enable beachgoers to scan a QR code at any beach bar and view concession rights and report violations. Meanwhile, the Greek state will use drones and satellites to monitor.

And finally, the law promises stricter penalties for violators of rules, with fines being set based upon the level of the infringement. It also provides for the removal and demolishment of illegal structures.

Minister Hatzidakis said, “This summer a lot will change on our beaches. With the new law we are improving the protection of our beaches, we are putting stricter rules on their management and ensuring free access for citizens. At the same time, we are creating a more effective control mechanism by using new technologies (drones, satellites) to ensure that the new rules are strictly enforced. Last summer we gave a good example and everyone understood that we are not joking about protecting our beaches. This year we will be even more effective.”

During the two-week period of public consultation on the bill, eight NGOs including the WWF and Greenpeace issued a joint statement pointing out that “the Ministry of Finance is abolishing the already inadequate setback zone of 30 meters from the shoreline. Setback zones of at least 100 meters are required by all signatory countries of the Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Mediterranean, which has been ratified by the European Union but not Greece.”

WWF also noted that the bill lifts a ban on the concession of smaller beaches, which is harmful to ecosystems.

Those critical of the most recent law on the exploitation of beaches note that the Ministry of Finance’s interests lie in maximizing the profitability of Greece’s shorelines, which is at odds with needs for further conservation, particularly as coastlines come under greater pressure from the impact of climate change.

Greece generally has a poor track record when it comes to environmental protection and the implementation and enforcement of European Union environmental laws.