Italy launches sewage plan to avert EU fines

State of emergency over Milan wastewater treatment announced after further legal warning

The Italian government called Milan's authorities to attention on Friday, declaring a thirteen-month long state of emergency over inadequate sewage treatment facilities in the country's second city. Milan is virtually the only major European urban centre that still discharges untreated effluent into surrounding rivers, its city council having failed to construct full treatment facilities as required under the EU's 1991 urban wastewater treatment directive.

Italy was condemned in the European Court of Justice over the issue in 1996. Earlier this month, the EU Commission announced a final legal warning to Italy in a repeat action that, if it ends in a second condemnation, could result in daily fines being levied against the national government (ENDS Daily 6 January). No such fines have ever been levied against an EU member state to date. According to EU officials, this is mainly because the threat of them provides excellent deterrent value, as now seen in the case of Milan.

The state of emergency will last until 30 April 2001, according to a government decree published in Italy's official gazette on Friday. It is intended to speed up construction of three sewage treatment plants for Milan. Nevertheless, with completion of the plants not currently foreseen before 2002-2005, Italy will still have its work cut out to stave off the threat of fines.

Follow Up:
Italian environment ministry, tel: +39 06 57 22 55 80.

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