Commission enforcement blitz continues

The European Commission this week continued to announce legal enforcement procedures against member states for failure to comply with environmental legislation. This week's cases concern: PCBs; waste management plans; asbestos; Freedom of access to information on the environment; chemicals; air pollution directives; Drinking Water Directive; failure to provide environmental reports; waste management failures; and bathing water.


PCBs: The Commission has decided to make applications to the European Court of Justice against Germany, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom for failure to adopt and communicate the necessary implementing legislation for a European Union (EU) Directive dealing with polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls (PCBs).

Waste Management Plans: Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Italy and Greece face ECJ actions for their failure to adopt and communicate to the Commission waste management plans complying with all of the following three European Union (EU) Directives on waste – the Framework Waste Directive, the Hazardous Waste Directive and the Packaging Waste Directive.

Asbestos: Belgium and Ireland for failing to comply with asbestos Directive

The European Commission is to make an application to the European Court of Justice against Belgium and to notify a Reasoned Opinion(final warning) to Ireland for failing to transpose properly into its national legislation a European Union (EU) Directive aimed at controlling environmental pollution from asbestos. The decision against Belgium concerns deficiencies in the legislation for the Brussels and Walloon regions. The decision against Ireland concerns a failure to give full effect in Irish legislation to requirements concerning asbestos removal involving the release of asbestos fibres.

Freedom of access to information on the environment: The Commission has decided to take further steps in legal actions against Belgium, Germany and Portugal in relation to the Directive on Access to Environmental Information. The Commission’s decisions against Belgium concern an application to the European Court of Justice for non-conformity with parts of the Directive as well as a reasoned opinion for failure of Belgium’s federal legislation to respect the Directive. Against Germany and Portugal the Commission decided to make applications to the Court of Justice.

The Commission says Belgian legislation is unsatisfactory in several respects. For example, the concept of environmental information is too narrowly defined; the legislation sets out grounds for refusing access that go beyond those provided for in the Directive; and the legislation fails to ensure that in all cases reasons are given for a refusal of access. The Commission understands that, very recently, new Flemish legislation was adopted. This would appear to resolve most of the issues specifically concerning this region.

As regards Portugal, the decision is to make an application to the Court of Justice under Article 226 for the failure of the Portuguese legislation to give full and proper effect to the requirements of the Directive. The Commission’s action followed the investigation of a complaint that the Portuguese implementing legislation was both incomplete and narrower in its coverage than the Directive. The Commission concluded that the complaint was well-founded, and that the Portuguese legislation did not assure public access to environmental information to the extent required (for example, by excluding bodies with public responsibilities for the environment from the obligation to give access to information; by providing that the requester must in some cases demonstrate his personal interest in the information; and by allowing a tacit refusal of information).

The decision against Germany stems from the investigation of a complaint concerning the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. This investigation found that the German authorities were interpreting the two month delay for responding to information requests as requiring only a formal response (i.e. a simple acknowledgement) and not a substantial response (i.e. a response providing either the requested information or stating a refusal). The Commission does not consider that the German interpretation is in line with the Directive.

Chemicals: The Commission has decided to take further steps in legal actions against Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal for failure to communicate implementing legislation for three European Union (EU) Directives relating to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances.

The first Directive is Commission Directive 96/54/EEC adapting to technical progress for the twenty-second time Council Directive 67/548/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the classification of dangerous substances. For this Directive, the Commission decided to make an application to the European Court of Justice against Belgium.

The second Directive is Directive 96/56/EC of the European Parliament and the Council amending Directive 67/548/EEC. For this Directive, the Commission decided to make an application to the Court against Germany.

The third Directive is Commission Directive 97/69/EC adapting to technical progress for the twenty-third time Council Directive 67/548/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the classification of dangerous substances. For this Directive, the Commission decided to notify Reasoned Opinions to Belgium, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Failure to report on hazardous waste installations: The Commission is taking court action against Italy and has issued a final warning to France, for their failure to provide information on hazardous waste facilities as required by the Hazardous Waste Directive.

Air pollution directives

The Commission has decided to make applications to the European Court of Justice against several Member States for failure to notify necessary legislation in relation to two European Union (EU) Directives concerning air pollution. The first is Council Directive 96/62/EC on ambient air quality assessment and management. The following Member States have failed to notify legislation for this: Greece, Spain and Portugal. The second is European Parliament and Council Directive 97/68/EC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to measures against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in non-road mobile machinery. For this legislation is lacking from the following Member States: France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Drinking Water Directive: The Commission is taking court action against Portugal for the non-conformity of the Portuguese implementing legislation. It has also issued a final warning to Ireland based on two failures: first, a widespread non-compliance with the Directive’s standards for total coliforms and fecal coliforms, particularly in group water supplies in rural parts of the country; second, the failure of the Irish implementing legislation to require non-compliant group water supplies to be brought into line with the Directive.
The deadline for compliance with the Directive was 1985.

Failure to provide environmental reports: The Commission has decided steps in legal actions against Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Denmark, France and Ireland for failure to provide environmental reports required under European Union (EU) environmental legislation. The most advanced procedures relate to the EU’s Reporting Directive, which streamlined reporting requirements for Member States on the implementation of a range of EU environmental legislation. Other cases concern reporting requirements of the Directive implementing the Basel Convention on the supervision and control of shipment of waste.

Waste management failures: Ireland has picked up final warnings for non-respect of the) Framework Waste Directive in relation to waste disposal in Counties Cork and Limerick. The Commission say its decisions reflect a concern that, without the enforcement of the licensing and illegal disposal provisions of the Framework Waste Directive, the fundamental aim of the Directive – sound waste management – will not be secured.

The Commission’s decisions stem from the investigation of two complaints. One claimed that, despite the absence of a waste license, large amounts of organic waste had been stored at lagoons at Ballard, Fermoy, County Cork from circa 1990 and subsequently land-spread. The complaint contended that the responsible local authority, Cork County Council, had failed to fulfil the obligations contained in the Directive.
The second complaint, which dates from 1997, claimed that Limerick Corporation was allowing demolition waste to be deposited without license on wetlands in Limerick city. The complainant provided a letter from the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which indicated that this amounted to recycling or reclamation not requiring a permit under the Irish implementing legislation.

Despite letters of inquiry as well as a Letter of Formal Notice under Article 226 of the Treaty, the Irish authorities have never formally responded to these complaints.

Apart from its concern that sound waste management is at risk without the enforcement of the licensing and illegal disposal provisions of the Framework Waste Directive, the Commission also disagrees with the stance of the Irish EPA on the Limerick case: the deposition of demolition waste on wetlands (contributing to wetland loss and degradation) cannot be correctly characterised as recycling or reclamation falling outside the need for a permit.

Bathing water: Portugal and Finland face court action for non-respect of the Bathing Water Directive. The Commission’s decision against Portugal was prompted by Portugal’s failure to comply with quality standards for many bathing waters (for example approximately 10.5% of coastal waters and 79% of inland waters were non-compliant during the 1998 bathing season), its failure to monitor in accordance with the Directive, and its failure to apply the Directive to a sufficient number of inland bathing areas.
The case against Finland concerns the 1998 non-compliance of 4 bathing waters in the province of Aland with the quality standards of the Directive as well as the failure to monitor these waters in accordance with the Directive.

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