Greece faces historic daily fine for waste tip

The European Court of Justice made history on Tuesday by fining Greece 24 600 Euros (£15 000) per day for uncontrolled waste disposal in the river Kournoupitos, in Crete. Greece is the first Member State of the European Community to be fined for failure to comply with a previous judgement by the Court of Justice.

The European Commission first received a complaint in 1987 about the dumping of industrial refuse and waste from military bases, hospitals, and slaughter houses, in the mouth of the river Kouroupitos, on the Akrotiri peninsula, just 200 metres from the sea.

The Greek government claimed that it was intending to create new landfill, incineration and recycling sites, and put an end to the operation of the tip by 1988. But by 1992, the European Commission was forced to take the case to the Court of Justice, claiming that the Greek authorities had failed to dispose of the waste in a way which did not threaten human health or the environment.

In its defence, Greece claimed that it had been forced to abandon plans for the management and recycling of waste from the Chania area because of opposition by residents to the location of new waste disposal sites.

The Court of Justice ruled that by failing to draw up adequate plans for the disposal of dangerous waste so as not to harm human health or the environment, Greece had failed to fulfil its obligations under Council Directives 75/442/EEC of 15 July 1975, and 78/319/EEC of 1978.

Despite Greece’s claim in 1995 that a new waste disposal site had been selected, the Commission decided that there no evidence of a significant improvement in the situation, and that waste was still being dumped in the Kouroupitos tip.

November 1996 saw the Greek authorities outlining their national waste management plan to the Commission. With regard to the Kouroupitos tip, the plan included the sorting of waste at source, the building of a recycling plant, a landfill site, and the restoration of the area of the tip.

The European Commission decided that this was not satisfactory and began fresh legal proceedings against the Greek government.

In it’s ruling on Tuesday, the Court of Justice found that waste is still being thrown in an uncontrolled manner into the Kouroupitos ravine. The Court found that Greece has adopted only ad hoc measures and fragmentary legislation rather than an acceptable programme of toxic and dangerous waste disposal. However, there is no longer proof of toxic wastes endangering human health and the environment. Waste from an American military base is now being taken abroad for treatment, and the hospital waste is now being stored in a cold chamber until it is incinerated. A biological sewage treatment plant has also been built in the area, so that the contents of septic tanks are no longer deposited into the Kouroupitos.

Greece has been ordered to pay 24 600 Euros (nearly £15 500) for every day from Tuesday onwards that it puts off complying with the European law.

In considering the size of the fine, the Court took into account the duration of the infringement, its degree of seriousness, and Greece’s ability to pay, as well as the effects of the waste dump on public and private interests, and the urgency of the problem.

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