ATHENS — The Greek parliament on Tuesday passed a controversial oil policy reform, drawing howls of protest from environmental groups charging that the government had taken advantage of the coronavirus lockdown to get it through.
The law, which green groups say will encourage oil exploration in protected areas, passed by 158 to 56 in the 300-member body dominated by the conservative New Democracy Party, many voting online.
Dozens of climate NGOs including Greenpeace and WWF staged a protest outside parliament on Monday to demand the withdrawal of the bill.
They say the law will endanger Natura 2000 zones protected for their biodiversity by EU legislation.
Greenpeace complained that the bill was drafted after the country went into lockdown on March 23, which it said "undermines democratic procedures".
Measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 began to be eased on Monday.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis dismissed the criticism as "unjustified".
"Bureaucracy is the enemy of growth and environmental protection," Mitsotakis told a sparsely attended parliament, adding that the law simplifies procedures for investors while respecting European norms.
Fofi Gennimata, head of the centre-left Kinal party, said the so-called "modernisation of environmental legislation" reforms undermines environmental protection and smacks of "cronyism".
The head of the main left-wing opposition party Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, criticised the government for debating "such an important bill at a time when parliament is not functioning normally".
The Greek chapter of Greenpeace stressed that Greece had committed, along with its EU partners, to halt the use of hydrocarbons by 2050, but that the law "encourages oil and natural gas drilling companies to operate in protected areas, weakening the role of local authorities."
On the other hand, Greenpeace praised provisions in the law that "simplify procedures to speed investment in green energy" such as solar and wind.
Athens has entered into contracts in recent years ceding hydrocarbon "exploration and exploitation" rights off of the island of Crete in the Ionian Sea with US giant ExxonMobil, France's Total and Edison of Italy to the dismay of local activists. — AFP