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Travel

Greece Lists 108 Protected Beaches, Banning Umbrella, Sunbed Rentals

Hoping to head off more protests this summer about public beaches being taken over or leasing space in violation of the Constitution, Greece’s New Democracy government said 198 beaches are now off limits to bars, restaurants and large public gatherings.

That’s a response to the so-called Beach Towel Movement that began on a few islands sick and tired of public beaches essentially becoming private beaches trying to keep off those who wouldn’t pay for umbrella and sunbed rentals and high-priced food and drink.

There was a brief crackdown at the time but the government didn’t go after 5-Star hotel and luxury resorts who’ve essentially legally been allowed to confiscate public beaches by leasing them, and more being pursued.

The government allows the leasing of 50 percent of beach space in most cases although it’s common for the businesses to take as much as they want without repercussions and unlawful businesses have set up shop on beaches without paying for leases.

The Constitution stipulates that all beaches are public but that has been ignored by successive governments in a rush to get revenues and much of Athens’ seaside has been taken over, the non-paying public locked down, even behind turnstiles.

Businesses operating on beaches are supposed to allow entrance but have tried to keep people out and private resorts de facto own the public beaches on which they are situated and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis even dedicated the opening of one in Athens.

The New York Times noted the prohibitions on the list of allegedly protected beaches that fall within the Natura 2000 network and will be off-limits for concessions and placement of umbrellas and sunbeds.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/19/world/europe/greece-beaches-tourists.html

The new legislative initiative will also allow citizens to use a digital application MyCoast to report violations of concessions or arbitrary occupation of beaches promptly although in the past the fines have been limited and few were shut down for violations.

Contradicting itself, the government said it would crack down on development but is eagerly reaching out for more, especially on islands and at prime beaches that could instead ban the public from using.

A law was passed in February to regulate use of the coastline and imposing penalties up to 60,000 euros ($64,221) for businesses that take up more than 50 percent of public beaches but it wasn’t said how it would be enforced or if luxury resorts would be exempt.

POUNDING SAND

Critics said the government, which wants the same kind of beach development it said it’s trying to also stop, hasn’t gone far enough and is just using window dressing laws to assuage protesters who failed in 2023 to get the beaches back.

“The main goal is to combine environmental protection with sustainable development,” Finance Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said, without explaining how that could be done or mentioning the Constitution.

“The environment is a valuable component of the Greek tourist product,” he said, adding the government was putting public assets “under a strict framework of rules, penalties and obligations,” although enforcements have been rare and in response to protests.

The beaches on the list are in areas included in the European Union’s Natura program, a network of vulnerable habitats across Europe that are protected under European law, including some on popular islands like Milos, Naxos, Lesbos, Samothrace and in the southern Peloponnese peninsula – not Mykonos or Santorini, the most overrun.

The islands were selected based on the advice of the country’s Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency and are all “areas of high ecological importance,” Environment and Energy Minister Theodoros Skylakakis.

Under the initiative, no section of those beaches can be auctioned off for commercial use, and the presence of sun-loungers and umbrellas will be prohibited, as will the organization of public events involving more than 10 people.

Some environmentalists in Greece aren’t impressed. Eleni Andrianopoulou, a resident of Naxos and a member of a Save the Beaches group, said the government’s original plan was to protect more than 1,000 beaches but fell more than 80 percent short.

“From the beginning we had stressed that this reform for untrodden beaches was a fraud,” she said, disparaging the protections as not going far enough and no word about the luxury resorts that have some of the best beaches under their wings.

Demetre Karavellas, Director of the World Wildlife Fund Greece, said there there are more than 100 marine and coastal areas in Greece already under the Natura program that aren’t being managed or protected.

“The government should start by complying with its basic legal obligations before creating new vague categories of protection,” he said, but instead there are regular announcements of more resorts taking over more beaches.

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