EU's green infringement cases leap one third

Environment sector tops the league table for alleged non-compliance with community law

The number of official complaints about alleged infringements of EU environmental law increased by a third last year, according to figures from the European Commission. The number of complaints — from the European Parliament, NGOs and members of the public — was up from around 300 in 1997 to over 400 in 1998, a recent report says. And a Commission an official told ENDS Daily that the trend is likely continue in 1999.

The data was collected for the Commission's recently published 16th Annual Report on Monitoring the Application of Community Law and will be used as the basis for a detailed overview of the application of EU environmental law, to be published in the autumn.

The report suggests that legislation in the environmental field is among the most frequently broken or incorrectly implemented in the EU. In 1998, 772 infringement cases were started or pending over alleged breaches of EU environmental law - almost 26% of the total. Only breaches of internal market laws rivalled this record.

Although the Commission is the body that polices EU law, it has no inspection arm of its own and relies to a large extent on complaints from outside bodies or individuals for information on possible infringements. These are then examined to determine if it is worth taking action against the member state concerned. The two areas giving the main grounds for complaint are nature conservation (accounting for 50% of the environmental cases) and environmental impact assessment (25%). The other main legislative areas cited are water, waste and air pollution. Spain, Germany and France provoked most complaints in 1998, and Luxembourg, Finland and Sweden the fewest complaints.

In 1998, the Commission made two uses of its most powerful weapon – referring cases back to the European Court of Justice when it believes a member state is not complying with a previous ruling, and requesting that the country be fined. One of these was against France over transposition of the wild birds directive (ENDS Daily 25 June 1998), the other against Italy over urban waste water (ENDS Daily 11 December 1998). The Commission claims that the threat of a fine — a procedure which has only been available to it in the last two and a half years — makes governments act more rapidly on court decisions.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: The 16th Annual Report (COM(1999) 301 final) should be available soon on the Commission's internal market directorate (DGXV) website.

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