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22 Feb 2023

Konstantinos Tsimonis, Anthi Giannoulou, Anastasia Frantzeskaki - Global China Pulse

Greece: COSCO continues to lobby government despite injunction on expansion of Piraeus port without proper environmental impact assessment

"Piraeus versus COSCO: A Conversation with Anthi Giannoulou and Anastasia Frantzeskaki" 22 February 2023

In 2008, the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) won a tender for the operation of the PPA’s container facilities (Pier 2 and construction of Pier 3) under a 35-year concession agreement. [...] For years, international perceptions of the Chinese presence in Piraeus have been shaped by false alarmist warnings about COSCO turning the port into a military base for the People’s Liberation Army Navy and acting as Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party in Greece and the European Union. However, for Piraiotes (citizens of Piraeus), COSCO’s acquisition of the PPA has been a source of concern because of the increasingly negative social and environmental impacts of the port’s operations.

Organised labour was the first to react to the PPA’s neoliberal transformation—often expressed under the banner of fighting the ‘Sinicisation of labour’—with a long sequence of mobilisations and strikes that pre-date the 2008 deal. [...]

Piraeus is already a heavily polluted and congested ‘cement city’. [...] These huge vessels use mazut oil, a low-quality heavy fuel, and when docking they need to keep their engines running, emitting the equivalent CO2 of 100,000 cars in 24 hours. [...] The other major environmental and public health hazard comes from the materials that would be used for land reclamation. [...]

There was no information available about all these plans and no public consultation, which is a violation of European and national law. [...] In 2018, we started using extrajudicial notice procedures [that is, a formal legal compliance warning before a lawsuit] to formally request access to the permissions and licences issued, but the relevant ministries and authorities were ignoring us. [...]

The mobilisation effort and the legal battle were spearheaded by the Labour Centre of Piraeus, along with grassroots groups of citizens with the help of different collectives and unions. [...]

Armed with evidence of the illegality of the project and the dire environmental impact of dredging in this case, we filed the annulment petition against the 2018 decision on the basis of incomplete environmental licensing of the terminal expansion. In July 2020, the President of the Fifth Division of the Council of State issued a temporary injunction and ordered the excavation and dumping of dredged material at sea to cease.

COSCO continued to lobby the government but also the civil service, where it has many contacts, to find ways to overcome this injunction, and indeed it managed to resume the construction of the terminal without openly engaging in dredging activities. [...]