EU environmental law infringements soar

The number of ongoing legal cases against member states believed to have infringed EU green laws almost doubled last year, with the majority of problems arising in the field of waste legislation.

Waste infringements range from incorrect waste definitions to inadequate waste planning. Member states also struggled to comply in particular with EU water, nature, air and impact assessment policies.

At the end of 2004, the European Commission was involved in 570 infringement cases against EU member states - up from 301 twelve months earlier (ED 11/08/04). The figure represents just under one-third of all EU infringement cases. Staff in the Commission's environment and legal services departments were unavailable for comment.

This sixth annual survey of environmental policy implementation is the first to cover an enlarged EU of 25 countries. However, even subtracting cases involving new member states leaves the total number at 518.

The increase is thanks largely to a huge rise in open "bad application" cases - in which, having correctly transposed EU legislation to national law, member states then fail to implement the rules or to implement them properly. The number of bad application cases rose from 95 to 295, of which only three were in new EU members.

Cases involving the Commission taking legal action taken against countries for not transposing legislation in time almost doubled to 173. Forty-nine of these involved new member states. Italy has the worst record in the EU, with 75 open environmental legal cases. Spain follows, with 64.

However, the data suggest that the rising number of open infringement cases could be as much due to falling productivity within the European Commission as a fundamental worsening of the situation.

The Commission took fewer actions to advance infringement cases in 2004 than the previous year and many of the 570 unresolved cases open in December 2004 originated before the year started. Complaints received by the Commission dropped significantly from 505 to 336, continuing a declining trend started in 2002.

The number or open "non-conformity cases", concerning incorrect transposition by member states, fell slightly, from 118 to 103. The year also saw no so-called article 228 court judgements, in which the European court of justice hands out a fine for ignoring a previous ruling.

Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas in a foreword to the report stressed that "better implementation of Community environmental law and its proper application on the ground" would be a priority of his five year Commission mandate.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily



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