European Commission continues to get tough over environmental laws
The European Commission is pursuing every single member state over a variety of environmental failings, including issues regarding ozone and waste.
Infringement procedures against all member states concerning the ozone layer
The European Commission has issued letters of formal notice requesting information from all member states on the progress made in controlling substances damaging to the ozone layer.
Under the Ozone Layer Regulation, member states are required to report on methods adopted for recovering ozone-depleting substances, including facilities, personnel qualifications and the quantities recovered.
Failure to respond satisfactorily to the Commission’s letters will result firstly in formal requests for systems to be set-up and finally, in Court action. Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “All Member States have agreed to help protect the ozone layer. We now need to know their progress in meeting this crucial global commitment.”
Infringement procedures against ten member states over waste legislation
Italy, Greece, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Belgium, Germany and the UK are being referred to the European Court of Justice for non-compliance with EU legislation on waste. In addition, together with France and Finland, several of these states have received formal requests to comply with other obligations under EU waste legislation.
The legislation covers waste shipment and management, landfills and packaging and battery waste. The Commission is concerned that by not implementing these laws correctly member states face problems such as illegal or poorly managed landfill sites, rising mountains of waste and poorly controlled transport of waste.
Court cases include the disposal of lampblack and waste oils, which pose an environmental risk to groundwater, land contaminated with dangerous waste and unauthorised landfills in a number of countries.
Miscellaneous Environmental Legislation
The European Commission has sent Belgium a letter of formal notice on non-compliance with a June 2001 ruling of the Court of Justice. The ruling condemned Belgian legislation that enabled ‘tacit authorisation’ of activities affecting the environment.
Under Belgian law, authorisation for activities that may have environmental impacts is granted automatically if the administration does not respond to an application within a specified period. EU legislation expects an administration to take a more active role in promoting environmental protection, as defined in a number of directives, such as those regarding dangerous substances and groundwater. For example, under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive an assessment must be carried out before authorisation is granted for certain projects. The Court of Justice ruled that authorisation could not be granted by default.
Sweden and Finland have also received formal requests to address shortcomings in their legislation on integrated pollution prevention and control. Failure to respond within two months may result in the Commission referring the countries to the Court.
The IPPC Directive applies to industrial activities with a high pollution potential such as the production and processing of metals, waste management and livestock farming through a permit system that assesses the environmental impacts of such activities.
Sweden has confirmed its intent to supplement its legislation on a number of points raised by the Commission concerning permits and authorisation, but adopted texts have not yet been notified to the Commission.
Ombudsman criticises Commission’s handling of Greek environmental complaint
And finally, the European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, has criticised the Commission over its handling of a complaint about Greece’s alleged infringement of environmental laws. The Ombudsman found that the Commission had withheld crucial information and had failed to ensure that the case was dealt with impartially. One of the officials involved in the decision was an advisor to the President of a Greek political party. The Ombudsman also concluded that the Commission was wrong to decide that the relevant directive was not applicable to the case.
The original complaint, lodged by the inhabitants of a Greek village, alleged that the Greek authorities had infringed Directive 85/337/EEC by building a biological treatment plant in their village. The Commission decided that the directive was not applicable to the project, despite previously stating that the Directive had been infringed.
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