It was only a few days before the Eldorado Hellenic Gold case erupted when the Greek Mining Enterprises Association organised a presentation on the mining industry’s potential as a sector of the economy today. Mining activity is an important sector and currently provides 115,000 jobs in Greece, plans to invest 1.3 billion in infrastructure and assets by 2018 but has also restored 35% of the area used for mining (from 1979 to today), ie 65,000 acres of land. Nonetheless, the industry as a whole seemed to adopt a policy of hiding from publicity or, at least, a communication policy of complaining. It already seems to be coming more to the forefront. And promoting itself, as environmental impact is the main issue and with the Eldorado case it has recently taken initiatives that have been promoted in Greece (Vagoneto in Parnassos, walking trails and the Milos Mining Museum, the circuit for motorcycle racing at the Dionysos Marbles, plans for Lavrio), with the idea of upgrading tourism. And it has also undertaken large-scale landscape restorations after finishing varies quarrying or mining operations. So, because the Eldorado debacle will fade from the public eye at some point, but we will still have mining activity, we contacted Thanassis Kefalas, President of the Greek Mining Enterprises Association, for a broader picture.

If today, in September 2017, you start a discussion about mining activity in Greece and its environmental footprint, you cannot overlook the fact that we are talking about this after the Eldorado Hellenic Gold case erupted. Do you believe that Greek public opinion will be able to approach the issue seriously in the near future?

The issue of Hellenic Gold is indeed the most important current subject for the mining industry. However, the ball is in the court of the two competent authorities, ie the company itself and the Greek State. For us it is worrying if an investment which, and I stress, has so far been environmentally licensed, is not implemented.  

By “for us”, you mean the Greek Mining Enterprises Association which, I assume, has Hellenic Gold as one of its members.

Yes, indeed, it is a member. We believe that no stone should be left unturned so that the investment can complete the licencing process and start.  

So we should consider that that is why the GMEA offered its services to restore contact between the two sides…

That is exactly the reason we offered our services. And that’s why we think that someone with accumulated knowledge – and our members have this technical experience – can help to bridge the gap, and can also contribute to a more active dialogue.

And you think this dialogue has broken down?

I would like to note that the company have asked for and accepted the need for this, and the relevant minister has announced that he is open to a dialogue and received representatives from the company a few weeks ago. I will stick to the external signs as I am not aware of the details. I hope that a final solution will be found as it is not in anyone’s interests for there to be no solution. There are workers, benefits for the national economy and we must also take into account the signs sent to foreign investors.

You mean that this case reflects on us as a country, and will continue to reflect on us?

I mean that the issue is by now significant both inside and outside Greece and is an investment that is being watched by everyone.

Does this episode drag you, as a sector, down?

In the sense that it creates an environment for discussion that is not positive, yes. But as a sector, we remain committed to what we think we can bring to the Greek economy.

And that is?

To stay with our current footprint, which is 3.4% of GDP. To be able to make the investments we have planned.

For example, I would mention that, on the basis of statistics gathered by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (up to 2013 unfortunately, we know that statistics in Greece are usually very late…), mining companies invest around 200 million Euros a year. Consistently. Even during the crisis.

So you are saying that this investment plays a stabilising role?

The number I gave you relates, consistently, to the period 2009-2013. I would say it is indeed stabilising. We are here, as a sector, and we continue to be so. You know, Mr. Papayannidis, by its nature the mining industry takes a long-term view. By its nature it makes conservative choices.

What do you mean by “conservative choices”?

That if we have not made a very good business plan and if we have not researched the technology and the extraction method we will use, and so on, thoroughly, we will not have an easy start. There is a saying “two measurements, and one cut!”. You measure the cloth twice, and only then do you take out your scissors. Because if you start to cut the cloth, it is not easy to go back.

And the infamous 5th Chamber of the Council of State? Do you feel any progress is taking place? Any “Learning curve”…?

Can I tell you something? I would not call it “infamous”. The 5th Chamber, if we look at it calmly, brought about something good too. It shook Greek society and the business community, and made it clear that the environment is not for free, it’s not without a cost. I am not ecstatic about the role it played, but looking forwards a bit, I would say that we have been seeing something like a pendulum: from an approach that considered the environment as free, we went to the most difficult approach. It’s time to find a balance!

Slowly: is the pendulum swinging back?

Yes, definitely! There have been decisions like that – and I don’t just mean the Hellenic Gold decisions. I have seen others as well – other decisions that set things out correctly, that sort the wheat from the chaff.

Which means?

It means that all those who want to profit at the expense of the environment or at the expense of the law, should no longer be around.

Could you be clearer here?

They should cease to exist. Either because they comply or because they stop operating.

And local societies’ views of things, how is that going?

Can I say that we see progress in some areas, and areas where there is a core of resistance which is not always based on the actual facts. It will sound strange to you, but bauxite works were never the subject of any resistance from the local society.  

Local societies and coexistence? Never?

Criticism, yes. Choices, of course, but not resistance.

Red mud in Itea?

That was from Aluminium of Greece’s operations, in the past. But now the company has developed new methods, backfilling materials, with appropriate technology. But there were no reactions like those we have been experiencing in other regions recently. The local societies of Boeotia and Fokida see bauxite and its derivatives (alumina, aluminium) as being part of their historical tradition over the last 60 years and they look at the continuing mining activity in the area in the same way. Milos, again, went through a period of intense controversy (with gold then), but today you will hear the mayor of Milos (in international and Greek conferences) presenting the island’s economy as a model of balanced development. I heard him say “We did not go through a crisis”.

Do you want another 2 or 3 examples? There is now a climate of confrontation in Chalkidiki.

Hmm, more than just confrontation!

But for decades tourism developed and coexisted with mines. Ormylia, Gerakini, in Cassandra, where Hellenic Gold is now. These coexisted!

And, for you, when did the equilibrium break down?

When, for a variety of reasons, the old Cassandra mines looked like they might not survive. There have been, if you remember, years that they basically ceased working. And instead of going smoothly, from the time of Madem Lakkos and the new Olympias, to mining the deeper layers, there was a break. If this mining tradition had not been interrupted, things would have gone on smoothly. I am not being critical of the management, but this is a macro observation. When the industrial tradition stops in an area and people build houses next to the factories, these factories will find it difficult to start up again.

Nowadays, the coexistence of mining and tourism is a given. And the possibility of exploiting mining land as a window in its evolution, this has also been proven. Allow me some pictures: a hotel in a mine in China, land restored by PPC from the lignite mines, or the Imerys’ vine yards on Milos.

 

[SOURCE:: ΟΙΚΟΝΟΜΙΚI ΕPΙTHEORISI, by Adonis Papayiannidis, 1/10/2017]