EU crisis delays legal infringement actions

Commissioners postpone planned decision to take Denmark to court over ban on metal cans

The European Commission has failed to agree to take Denmark to court over its ban on sales of carbonated drinks in metal cans as a direct result of last week's resignation of all 20 commissioners (ENDS Daily 16 March). The development is a second clear indication that the EU crisis is hitting normal EU environmental policy making after a long-awaited package of legislative proposals on acidification and ozone pollution failed to appear last Wednesday.

At today's meeting, the acting European commissioners were due to rubber stamp around 500 infringement actions against EU member states for non-compliance with environmental laws. The number of actions is probably a record, according to sources. The vast majority were to have been relatively uncontroversial decisions to send first warnings, or formal notices.

ENDS Daily understands that the package was also to have included a decision to apply to the European Court of Justice against Denmark in the context of the long-running tussle between the two sides over Denmark's ban on metal cans.

Due to uncertainty over their legal and political position after their resignation, the acting commissioners decided to postpone decisions on all the infringement actions pending. Less political cases are thought likely to return to the agenda next month. However, a decision on Denmark's can ban could be delayed for longer.

According to EU and Danish government sources, no decision to proceed is likely to be made before a new Commission has been appointed. In the most extreme case this could extend to January next year, though there is strong pressure for an interim Commission to be appointed well before then. In this case, the next most likely time that court action would be agreed would be in June.

Following their resignations en masse last week, and pending the appointment of a new executive, the commissioners have decided to restrict their activities to non-political day-to-day business, and items considered especially urgent. A Commission spokesperson told ENDS Daily that this would mean avoiding taking any decision on high-profile infringement cases which might be considered political or setting a precedent.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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