Host of EU states face court for environmental lapses as France nets massive fine

Brussels has launched a barrage of legal action as members lag behind on legislation which should have been written into national statute books months ago - and France has been fined millions of Euros for flagrantly ignoring fishing laws.

Few member states have escaped reprimand completely, as national governments struggle to bring in waves of new legislation.

German, notably, has kept up to date with developments while Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg have been singled out by the Commission as the worst offenders.

The warnings tend to be about failures to properly implement laws designed to protect the environment, rather than failing to protect the environment per se.

The Commission has taken legal action against 12 countries for failing to bring in the Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) Directive, legislation which would require environmental impact assessments to be carried out for a wide range of activities, such as road building, land development and waste management.

The laws should have been in place by July 21, 2004.

The failing states are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The SEA Directive is an important step forward in achieving sustainable development in the EU and gives the public more influence on decisions affecting the environment.

“The fact that 12 Member States have still not finalised their national legislation is just not good enough.”

Meanwhile, seven countries will also receive a formal warning for failing to make environmental data accessible to the public under a Directive which should have been introduced by February 14 this year.

Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg and Spain have all failed to bring in the law which aims to provide the public with information on environmental issues to allow informed citizens a better chance of affecting policy making.

Commissioner Dimas said: “The new directive is a key step towards improved transparency in environmental policy making.

“Europe’s citizens now have not only the freedom but also the right to obtain environmental information that is held or produced by public authorities.

“However, Member States have to transpose the directive to enable their citizens to exercise this right in practical terms.”

11 states have been dragged over the coals for failing to implement measures to control noise pollution, which should have been done by July 18 last year.

Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and the United Kingdom have all received formal warnings and, as with the other cases, could get taken to the European Court of Justice if they fail to comply.

“The EU’s objective is to substantially reduce the number of people in Europe affected by noise by 2012,” said Commissioner Dimas.

“To reach this objective, it is crucial that all Member states implement the agreed measures. Almost half have not yet done so.

“I urge these member states to speed up their efforts.”

The environmental pariahs in this latest wave of EC enforcement were Ireland (see related story, Portugal and Luxembourg.

The Commission is taking Lisbon to court for allegedly misinterpreting the SEA Directive when it was written into Portuguese law, while Portugal has been given final warnings in five other cases as varied as air pollution, waste, waste water treatment and noise.

Luxembourg has been rapped for five non-compliances and is to be hauled before the ECJ for failing to ensure adequate urban wastewater treatment.

It has also received four final warnings, one for a case relating to legislation to reduce CO2 emissions in cars and three for the SEA, noise and access to information legislation.

Finally, France has gained the dubious honour of being awarded the biggest ever fine in the EU for breaching environmental legislation.

On Tuesday the ECJ handed France a double fine, the first of its kind, for failing to respect EU fisheries conservation rules for 11 years.

The court ordered France to pay €20 million plus a further €57.8 million payment every six months until it stops flouting the law.

Even without the periodic penalty one-off fine is far and away the highest an EU state has had to pay.

The previous record holder was Greece, which was ordered to pay €20,000 per day for non-compliance with waste regulations and finally settled the bill at €5.4 million levied on an EU state.

Spain is also currently amassing a hefty fine for failing to ensure its bathing water meets EU standards and has had to pay out €3.3 million to date.

By Sam Bond

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