Increase in environmental infringement proceedings

Claire Monkhouse from the IEEP looks at the latest developments at the European Commission

Complaints and infringement proceedings relating to environmental law are continuing to increase, according to the Commission's latest survey of the implementation and enforcement of European environmental law.

The Commission's third annual report covers the period from January 2000 to December 2001, and shows that the environmental sector represented over a third of all the complaints and infringement cases concerning noncompliance with Community law investigated by the Commission in 2001.

The Commission brought 71 cases against member states before the Court of Justice and delivered 197 Reasoned Opinions. This marks an increase of approximately 40% compared to the corresponding figures for 2000, and continues the upward trend witnessed since 1996.

The large increase is thought to be due to a number of factors, including regular monitoring by the Commission of conformity with legislation; increased public concern over environmental issues; awareness of both Community law and the complaints handing procedure; and the organisational difficulties some member states are having ensuring full compliance with Community environmental law.

The report presents an infringements scoreboard showing the number of actions being taken against member states in various fields of EU environmental law. It shows that proceedings are in hand in all areas of environmental legislation and against all member states.

In total, there were 301 infringement actions outstanding against member states at the end of 2001. Of these, over 40% were for failing to communicate measures to implement EU laws, with the UK being the worst offender with 19 actions still outstanding.

The remaining 60% is almost evenly split between non-conformity of national legislation implementation with EU law, and for bad application of obligations contained in EU directives. In this area Austria, Belgium and France came out as the worst performers.

A closer look at the infringement actions shows that around half of all cases are associated with waste, air and water quality. A significant proportion (over 25%) relate to nature conservation, specifically the birds and habitats directives.

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