Greek waste fine clock still ticking

Penalty already at euros 1.7m as Greece struggles to comply with landmark court judgement

Greece is still struggling to comply with a historic European Court of Justice ruling under which it must pay fines for failing to comply with EU waste law despite a previous court judgement. Shortly after the 4 July ruling, Greek officials claimed the legal breach would be remedied within two months (ENDS Daily 14 July). An environment ministry spokesperson said today that the target was now the end of November, by which time the total fine will be nearly euros 3m. It remains unclear whether the new timescale is more realistic than the first.

The financial penalty was the first ever awarded in the EU's history. It relates to continued operation of the uncontrolled Kouroupitos landfill site on Crete in breach of two EU waste directives despite Greece having already once been condemned by the European Court in 1992 (ENDS Daily 4 July). The government was condemned to pay euros 20,000 per day to the European Commission until the breach was rectified.

With the total penalty due now standing at euros 1.7m, a Greek environment ministry official told ENDS Daily today that the government had now reached agreement with Chania municipal authorities on where to locate a replacement controlled landfill and recycling plant. This marked a breakthrough, the official said. During the long EU legal action concerning Kouroupitos, Greece consistently claimed that Kouroupitos could not be closed because of local opposition to new waste facilities.

As Greece battles to get alternative waste facilities for Chania opened, the European Commission is still working out how it will verify an end to the legal breach, thus terminating the daily penalties. According to officials, it remains uncertain whether a visit to Kouroupitos will be necessary or whether confirmation from the Greek government will suffice.

Because it has never had to collect financial penalties from EU member states before, the Commission is also having to develop new policies in this area. According to officials it was decided only yesterday that Greece will be sent a monthly "bill" for around euros 600,000 while the breach persists rather than being charged daily or in one go after legal compliance is assured. Since no payment requests have been issued so far, the initial one will cover the first three months after the court judgement, an official said.

Follow Up:
Greek environment ministry, tel: +30 1 642 2392; European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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