Skouries is a small town in the province of Halkidiki in northern Greece. This peninsula is also known as the secret paradise of Greece. The wild nature, rich biodiversity and mix of mountains, forests, sea and beach make this region one of the most popular touristic places in Greece. The inhabitants of this region are almost all dependent on tourism, fishing, beekeeping and/or agriculture. This makes the region very sensitive to the arrival of large-scale mining activities
For decades, mining companies have been trying to gain access to the minerals (mainly gold and copper) under the surface of Halkidiki. According to estimates, this could generate profits of 15.5 billion euros. This extraction, however, is incompatible with the current activities in the region. Tourists are attracted each year by the exceptional ecosystems (with one of the last ancient forests of Europe) with their clean air, expansive beaches, idyllic rivers… fishery and agriculture are the main income sources for the inhabitants in this area. This was emphasized by the Greek Supreme Court, that concluded ten years ago that the economic benefit of mining wouldn’t outweigh the ecological impact of the mining, including air pollution, acid mine drainage, exhaustion and pollution of groundwater, rivers and the sea, and increase of heavy metals in the food chain.
This ruling made for around ten years of silence on the mining opportunities of Halkidiki. In 2009, the economic crisis hit Greece worse than elsewhere. A combination of high unemployment and an environment minister who was desperate to prove to Europe that he could attract foreign investment, opened up the mining debate once again. The extraction of 380 million tons of ore over the next 25 years, has to lift Greece from the crisis. In 2011 the Canadian company Eldorado Gold bought 95% of the shares from European Gold Field, for about 1,8 billion euros.
Hellas Gold, a subsidiary of Eldorado, is developing today a large open pit gold- and coppermine in the middle of a hill that used to be covered with ancient forest. Over 180 hectares of valuable forest have been cleared to make way for the mine, a processing plant and two large tailings dams. The Halkidiki mine would, together with a mine in Thrace, make Greece the largest producer of gold in Europe.
Now, Hellas Hold has put their plans on hold, they don't like the attitude of the new Greek government. The department of Energy and Environment is blocking the licenses, which are required to continue their work. Eldorado Gold had 300 million US dollars spent on this project. Their other project in Halkidiki, the Olympia's project, will be stopped too in March 2016, if they don't get the required licenses by then. This project employs five hundred people.
Hellas Gold is still waiting for the approval of the government, but by the opposition of severl environmental groups, the government don't give the licenses. These groups suggest that the mining project in Chalkidiki will harm tourism and the environment.
In addition, the government has some previously obtained licenses revoked again. Eldorado Gold is therefore currently caught up in al legal battle to overturn these rulings. The CEO of the company is frustrated and says that Skouries is becoming a political tof of the Greek government. Eldorado Gold is one of the largest foreign investors in Greece, but whether it will be long is questionable. Their patience is running out. Then Eldorado Gold would also shut down their projects in Thrace. The decision to halt these projects, the company did because they are not willing to continue as long as there is no clear way forward, and as long as the Greek government will assume a constructive attitude. The company hopes to changes in 2016.
Paul Wright, CEO of Eldorado Gold, claims that each stopped project will cause a loss of at least 500 jobs. Consequently, besides the protests against the mine, there are unfortunately also some pro-mining protest.