We have the fundamental right and the moral duty to stand up against the Paros Airport Extension and to call for a sustainable reformatting of the project.
Several individual reactions against our opposition to the Paros Airport Extension, at the very least question, if not deny, our right to act against a programming of infrastructure decided by authorities under a democratically elected government.
Some individual comments are going further – vilipending our action as being the expression of a particular, selfish interest going against the common good.
We have also noted several intimidating reactions, ostracizing us as “non-friends of Paros”, warning some of us of “probable reprisals” – and more.
All this is regrettably inappropriate – and we call for due respect for our action.
And this is for the following reasons:
When authorities – or private developers alike – decide to develop certain public or private projects with impact on the environment, they are bound by law, to make a thorough assessment of the impacts of their projects on the environment.
They have also the legal obligation to inform in full transparency the public concerned of:
- the details and goals of their project,
- what the alternatives were and why those alternatives were not considered,
- what the potential impacts of the project will be on the environment (in general, and in the neighbourhood)
and organize an open dialogue with this “Public Concerned” on the matter.
They have the “obligation to foster participation” in the framework of this dialogue, including participation by associations, organisations and groups, in particular non-governmental organisations promoting environmental protection.
What is meant by “Public Concerned”? It is defined as the “public affected or likely to be affected by, or having an interest in, the environmental decision-making’’: therefore will be equally concerned both the residents living in Paros and semi- or second-residents owning houses in Paros, but also non-governmental organizations promoting environmental protection etc…
This means that the project dialogue may not be restricted to permanent residents only, giving them prevailing rights because of their resident status, sacrificing the semi-residents’ interests to theirs. In a way, the applicable law enshrines the principle that a person’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins, irrespective of his legal or administrative status.
The rationale behind these obligations is that when it will come to granting a permit – or refuse it – this will be done after careful consideration of its effects on the environment, to be minimized by appropriate project design and planned operational modalities, addressing as much as possible public concern and environmental needs. If, after weighing the particular interest (of the promoters and opponents alike) against the general one, the environmental impact is considered acceptable as (i) not infringing law, (ii) compatible with national and European environmental commitments (iii) mitigating satisfactorily the damage risks and hence not impacting substantially the environment (in its broad definition), then yes, the permit shall be awarded.
The same legal provisions provide that individuals who consider that obligations arising from these laws are not respected have access to appeal procedures. They provide in particular that upon acceptance of the appeals, permits issued will be annulled, obliging project promotors and authorizing bodies to address the claimants’ objections in a reformatted project, to resubmit a modified permit application – or to abandon the project.
The goal of these fundamental rules and rights is obvious: to maintain social cohesion – having secured sufficient public acceptance of the projects to be authorized – and avoid possible (societal) contestation of or people’s disinterest in public management.
These rights also create a responsibility for the citizens concerned to decide for themselves if the project is necessary, just reasonably admissible or unacceptable – and in this last case, to let it know, and make promotors and authorities – which may in good faith have not anticipated the reasons for this opposition – aware of the reasons. In other terms, when you have a right to criticize and oppose, you have a duty to do it. And if you do not, you become … partner in crime, and should not complain about it later.
Also, there can be no playing around with those principles: if a project is part of a greater one, such as “making Paros a Hub for the South Aegean”, then the greater project must be assessed on a global basis, and not on its different components in isolation, in view of minimizing its effects. There are several precedents in the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union – the only source of authentical interpretation of EU law – in this respect.
And obviously, the goals of the Project should be genuinely presented and not misleading: the Paros Airport Extension was motivated at the Paros Municipality Council as serving “safety needs”, not further described than “allowing B737 to land”. It was publicly announced by Citizen Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis “that necessary procedures would ensure that Paros becomes a hub for international traveller”. It was said that the new airport was meant to receive “fewer planes with more people” (replacing many planes with fewer passengers) and “improve visitors’ experience”. Whom shall one believe?
What happened with the projected Paros Airport Extension?
Well, amongst many others, the following items were neglected. No dialogue with the Public Concerned was organized, no information was made available at all to this Public Concerned during the authorisation process. The project details were not made available, but only summarily described in the permit application documents. No alternatives were considered. There was no so-called “scoping step” in the launching of Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) as recommended by EC procedures, associating authorities, the public and the developer before the impact assessment started. The Municipality – although it is the local authority in charge of providing environmental protection, failed to impose the required dialogue and transparency. The EIA was superficially drafted, underestimating (deliberately ?) usage potentials, omitting to treat numerous potential effects (not least the induced carbon emissions, while these should be reduced quite drastically as we know), no Appropriate Assessment (“AA”) was made, as required for the direct neighbourhood of Natura 2000 zones – and last but not least- the EIA neglected to verify the carrying capacity of Paros and Antiparos in view of the expectable increase of tourist influx – which was simply not considered. The Public Concerned was not given any opportunities to participate effectively in the environmental decision-making.
The authorizing entity, i.e. the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, despite these fundamental omissions, considered nevertheless the EIA as complete and sufficient and did not bother the omitted publicity and dialogue.
Moreover, the Greek State received providential access to the “Transport Infrastructure, Environment And Sustainable Development OP” European Commission (Greek-managed) €4,344 billion subsidy program aiming at :
- Supporting the shift towards a low carbon economy in all sectors
- (…) implement(ing) important environmental projects and provides compliance to the European Environmental acquis mainly in the sectors of solid waste, waters and waste waters and biodiversity.
- (…) tackling of climate change and flood risk prevention and management.
- (…) focused actions in reducing environmental pollution and in particular air pollution and noise.”
In short, subsidies meant for more … sustainability (climate, air, water, waste, transport). It has managed to convince EC Directorate Regio to include under “focused operations on airports (…)” some not further described safety investments as eligible of subsidies. The funds are definitely not meant to subsidize international travellers or tourism investors, but infrastructure needs of European citizens in need of sustainable transformation of their essential infrastructure.
With the funds at its disposal (and probably not succeeding in spending them all), it seems that the Greek State did not resist from using this providential EC funding manna for the Paros Airport Extension, although its “safety” component is – if at all – only a fraction of the total budget of € 40 million – the bigger chunk being used to increase both airport handling capacity and allowable aircraft size, to achieve “high-end passenger experience” (tax-free shopping areas, F&B zones) – irrespective of the effects on the environment, on carbon emissions, on air quality, on waste and water on the island …
Now, subsidies from this Programme (scheduled for the Period 2014-2020) have to be committed and drawn before the end of 2023. Also, the privatisation programme should be concluded by then. Therefore, the implementation of the Extension Project – likely to last 2 years – needs to start soon enough.
Then why burden the launching of the Extension works with time-consuming dialogue with the Public Concerned?
The solution was to convince the local authorities of the Island that “the investment is essential for its population and its future” and “will be essential for Paros to keep its competitive edge” without any credible analysis … and bet that this will suffice to get things done.
Really? Is it so simple and dubious?
There we stand: an Airport Extension Project designed without consideration for the Environment, in reality threatening Paros’ survival, via a sham authorisation procedure not respecting fundamental legal obligations, with the aim of obtaining concession income paid upfront in order to relieve the State’s debt by a substantial amount, or rather of embezzling subsidies meant for environmental purposes … for a project in total conflict with the subsidy rules and environmental commitments subscribed by Greece to freeze (if not reduce then certainly) emissions emitted by aviation, depriving citizens in need of a legitimate subsidisation unjustly spent for the leisure time of a privileged few – letting naïve defendants believe the Extension Project is essential to their future, albeit without any objective grounds.
We are documenting in another news publication why this ‘strategic importance’ is a fake reason, and what will be the environmental, human and economic disaster that the Airport Extension will entail.
Can we really look, sit and keep quiet?
Not use our legal rights after having been deprived of the fundamental ones?
Accept the misuse of the EC budget?
Accept that Greek Authorities, despite Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ public declarations on a more sustainable tourism for Greece, maintain and foster a mass tourism model damageable for the environment, and counterproductive to Greece’s sustainability?
We are convinced it is our moral and civic duty to stand up and to use all legal means to halt this dramatic manoeuvre. Our action is necessary, responsible, reasonable, and proportional.
This is why we undertake it and call all responsible persons to join. Now. Stand up for the right cause!
PS: we hear that Paros Municipality is currently very upset against wind turbine park developers now submitting their project for the island discretely sliced-up in smaller sub-projects (combined with solar PV), that nearly escaped to the Municipality’s scrutiny, not having been informed duly.
Is it not contradictory to complain about such malpractice for one project (the wind turbines) and tolerate it for another (the airport extension, combined with Pisso Livadi’s port extension)?
We strongly object to such fragmentation and lack of transparency in all cases, since it serves the circumvention of the effective public consultation!