Commission takes Denmark and Belgium to Court

Danish can ban tops list of latest EU infringement cases; Belgium in the dock over wastewater

The European Commission decided today to take two countries to the European Court of Justice for failing to comply with EU environmental laws. Meeting in Brussels this morning, EU commissioners agreed to make a long-awaited court application against Denmark over its ban on metal drinks cans. The Commission will also take Belgium to court for failing to comply with the EU's 1991 urban wastewater directive.

On the long-running can ban case, the Commission hopes to prove that that Denmark is breaking the rules of the 1994 packaging directive (94/62) by refusing to allow beer and carbonated soft drinks to be sold in disposable drinks cans. Under sustained pressure from Europe's packaging industry, the Commission argues that metal cans fulfil the directive's "essential requirements" and so should be allowed free movement throughout the EU's single market (ENDS Daily 7 October 1998). A Commission spokesman said the court procedure was likely to take about a year.

The case against Belgium concerns the fact that there is still no wastewater treatment for its capital city, Brussels, despite the requirements of the 1991 directive on urban wastewater treatment. This requires all EU towns above 10,000 population situated in "sensitive areas" to have treatment facilities in place by the end of 1998. A recent Commission report showed that Brussels and Milan were the only major EU cities that still have not complied with this (ENDS Daily 26 January). A legal action against Italy is pending but was not dealt with at today's meeting.

Other infringement actions agreed today include a second formal notice (first warning) to be sent to Belgium concerning failure to carry out a thorough environmental impact assessment (EIA) before building a waste incinerator at Drogenbos close to Brussels. The Commission first launched an infringement action over the incinerator earlier this year (ENDS Daily 25 January). It now says that, in addition to failing to perform a proper EIA, the competent authority did not take public opinion into account when it granted planning permission for the plant. This would be a further breach of the EU's 1985 EIA directive (85/337), it says.

The Commission also decided to send a reasoned opinion (final warning) to Finland, alleging failure to comply with the 1979 birds directive and started proceedings on about 30 other environmental cases, details of which it has not made public.

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

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