EU action against environmental offenders gathers pace
The promised wave of legal action against EU states which have failed to implement environmental legislation continued this week, with key contributors to Europe Britain, Germany and France among those under fire from Brussels.
In the most advanced case Britain will receive a written warning after failing to act on the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) regarding safe management of hazardous waste.
The UK looks set to find itself back before the courts in two linked cases, both concerning the urban wastewater management.
In the other five cases the EC will be issuing final warnings - failure to act will see the UK hauled in front of the ECJ again.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "EU environmental legislation has already done a lot to improve the state of the environment in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.
"But to be fully effective, it must be fully implemented."
The silver lining for the UK is that it has become the first EU member to formally designate all of its protected areas of European importance under the Habitats Directive.
Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight said that the UK had designated all 608 sites as Special Areas of Conservation, less than six months after the European Commission's decision to adopt the proposed areas as sites of Community importance.
"I'm delighted that the UK is the first EU member to meet its European and international commitments to protect vulnerable and threatened species and habitats in this way," he said.
"By moving so quickly, the UK Government and devolved administrations have proven our shared determination to protect these important areas."
France, still reeling from having a record €20 million EU fine for an environmental breach slapped on it last week (see related story) now has to face EU action in ten new cases.
Paris has been sent three warnings for not respecting judgements of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) concerning genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs), genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and waste management.
In addition, in the last stage before the Commission may refer the cases to the court, France will receive five final warnings for non-compliance with other EU environmental laws.
"I am pleased that we were able to close a number of our cases against France," said Commissioner Dimas.
France had been hauled over the coals for failing to adequately protect the endangered Alsatian hamster, for example, but the Commission is now content that better conservation measures are now in place.
Commissioner Dimas warned against complacency.
"Many cases remain," he said.
"I trust that France will continue to take action to solve these.
"It is particularly worrying that France has not complied with several Court rulings."
Germany, the largest single contributor to the European Union, has got off fairly lightly in the Commission's wave of legal action, with just one case to answer while Spain has also done reasonably well with four actions against it.
Berlin has been condemned for failing to bring the country's legislation on GMOs into line with those of the rest of the union, despite an ECJ ruling on the matter.
Madrid will be referred to the court for two cases, incolving the protection of wild birds and Earth's ozone layer.
In two other cases, concerning public access to environmental information and strategic environmental assessment, Spain has received final warnings before possible court action.
Commissioner Dimas said: "I know that Member States understand the need to address the concerns of their citizens; concerns that legislation must ensure a healthy environment and a high quality of life.
"I am confident that Germany will act quickly to bring its laws on GMOs in line with European legislation, and that Spain will continue to work towards closing the gaps in its environmental protection."
The Commissioner's homeland, Greece, has eight active cases against it while three others will be closed following a satisfactory resolution.
Greece will receive it's the first written warning for failing to implement union-wide laws on GMOs even after an ECJ ruling on the matter and is set to be referred to court over holes in its measures to protect the ozone layer.
In the remaining six cases, covering laws on waste water, air pollution, waste, noise, environmental impact assessment and access to information, Athens has been sent final written warnings.
Commissioner Dimas said: "I am pleased that we are able to close three cases against Greece."
However, he recalled that the Commission considers legal action as a last resort to make member states fulfil their environmental commitments and should not be necessary.
The Commission is also issuing five written warning to Belgium over breaches of environmental law.
The legislation in question concerns noise, strategic environmental impact assessment, public access to environmental information, water, waste and nature conservation.
All the actions are part of a series of environment-related infringement decisions against a host of member states which the Commission has said it plans to announce over a period of days.
By Sam Bond