Commission acts against a plethora of member states over lax environmental management

The European Commission has announced that it is to take action against 10 member states over failure to comply with EU water quality legislation, the handling of dangerous substances, and for non-compliance with a variety of waste directives.


First of all, Italy is being referred to the European Court of Justice for the country’s failure to provide the Commission with adequate information on sewage sludge disposal in line with the Sewage Sludge Directive. The Court of Justice will also be considering Italian rules on batteries, which, under the Batteries Directive, are not sufficiently stringent with regard to mercury content.

Italy will also be receiving a second written warning concerning an unsafe facility for the storage of hazardous waste at Acna di Cengio, which does not comply with the Waste Framework Directive.

“It is a good thing that EU countries have made a set of agreements to manage the amount of waste generated in the EU,” said Environment Minister Margot Wallström. “But these directives are of little or no benefit unless all countries first put them into national law and then put them into practice.”

United Kingdom

The UK is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failures over the Waste Framework Directive, for not including the definition of ‘waste’ in the country’s legislation, and for insufficient waste transport controls in Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. The UK will also have to explain to the Court about its failure over various articles of the Hazardous Waste Directive, such as the fact that the prohibition on the mixing of hazardous wastes has not been fully implemented again in Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

Other criticisms of the UK include a failure to adopt measures that prioritise the processing of waste oils by regeneration as required by the Waste Oils Directive, and an over-generosity with exemptions from the requirement for permits for waste operations.

Together with Belgium and Spain, the UK has also sinned over water quality, for missing the December 2000 deadline for transposing the new Drinking Water Directive into legislation.

“The European Commission must respond to the particular concern of many citizens for a strong level of water protection by ensuring that member states comply with the range of EU agreements that they have adopted for this purpose,” said Walström. “It is essential that all member states adhere fully to these legislative measures if we are to ensure a suitable management of water quantity and quality in Europe.”


Germany is also being referred to the Court of Justice for not using the common Community-wide terminology for hazardous waste, and for the fact that legislation in the province of Thüringen does not respect the terms of the Waste Shipment Regulation.

German legislation also fails to require adequate monitoring of wastewater treatment measures as required under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, resulting in a second referral to the Court of Justice.

The Commission’s final criticism of Germany refers to inappropriate legislation controlling the handling of dangerous substances. Together with France, Luxembourg, Greece and Austria, Germany is being referred to the Court of Justice for failure to adopt and communicate all the texts required to implement the Biocides Directive – required to protect against non-agricultural pesticides.

“I urge these member states to bring their practices into line with their European agreements as soon as possible,” said Walström. “The measures which they and other EU member states agreed to regulate the use of chemicals are an important part of the EU’s environmental protection programme.”


The Commission’s criticisms of Austria’s waste legislation include the country’s failure to prohibit the separation of PCBs from other substances for the purpose of reusing them. Austria is also being referred to the Court of Justice for not transposing the correct definitions of ‘recovery’ and ‘disposal’ – as required in the Waste Framework Directive – into national law, and for failing to have an obligation to separate hazardous waste.


The Commission has decided to send France a first written warning for not complying with a ruling in May last year by the Court of Justice requiring Brittany to set a 50mg/l limit for nitrates in surface waters. France has also failed to transpose the new Drinking Water Directive into legislation – despite a ruling by the Court in December 2000, and has still not provided 1999 bathing water quality results.

Finally, France is also being referred to the Court of Justice for the pollution of the de Berre saline lake – one of the largest in Western Europe. Discharges of fresh water and sediments with excessively high nutrient levels by a hydroelectric power station have led to the decline of the lake.


Greece is out of favour with the European Commission for not meeting the 1998 deadline for installing tertiary wastewater treatment in the region of Elefsina, and for inadequate wastewater treatment in Athens. Greece has also received a second written warning for failing to designate the gulf of Thermaikos in the Aegean Sea as sensitive.


Following an investigation into a complaint that Ireland has not adopted any anti-pollution programmes under the Shellfish Directive, the country is being referred to the Court of Justice. Irish legislation had previously only provided for programmes where problems have already arisen, rather than preventing pollution from occurring in the first place. Although Ireland has now amended its legislation, the required programmes have still not been sent to the Commission.

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