EU states face court over environmental law

France, Greece, in the dock, while three countries accused of "non-cooperation"

The European Commission is to launch court cases against France and Greece over failure to comply with EU environmental laws, the Union's executive announced on Friday. The Commission also said it would launch new infringement actions against three states alleging failure to cooperate with investigations into possible environmental law breaches.

France is accused of failing to protect enough of its waters from the danger of over-enrichment through nitrate pollution from agriculture. Under the 1991 directive, member states must designate areas that are actually or potentially polluted as "nitrate vulnerable zones" (NVZs) and draw up action programmes to curb inputs of nitrogen fertilisers.

According to the Commission, there are "serious gaps" in France's designation of NVZs, especially in urban areas in the north, south-west, Normandy and Île-de-France. The directive is generally poorly implemented, with several other states currently subject to infringement actions (ENDS Daily 2 July). The Commission is to present a report on overall EU compliance with the directive by the end of the year.

Greece faces a trip to court for failing to act on "major problems" in the conservation of the Mediterranean sea turtle, which needs undisturbed access to beaches in the eastern part of the sea to breed. Greece has failed to respond to Commission requests to halt tourist development at a bay on the island of Zakynthos, despite claiming that a national park is being created to protect the turtle. The Commission announced a final warning over the issue in June (ENDS Daily 4 June).

Meanwhile, the Commission is to send letters of formal notice, or first warnings, to Ireland, Italy and France, alleging a failure to cooperate with investigations into possible breaches of EU environmental laws. Specifically, the Commission complains that the three countries have failed to respond to requests for information. This type of legal action is rarely taken, though it is the second time this year that Ireland has faced such a complaint (ENDS Daily 2 July).

Under the present cases, the Commission states that Ireland has failed to reply to questions over a number of large scale projects affecting Dublin bay, which the Irish government has agreed to protect under the wild birds directive. Italy has not given the Commission enough information to decide whether it has breached waste, habitats and impact assessment directives in relation to two landfill sites. France is failing to provide details of environmental threats posed by a planned bypass in the Loire valley, an intensive poultry production site at Mont St.Michel bay in Brittany and a smelting work in the Ardennes which "may disclose a breach" of several air and water directives.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. References: The Commission's press releases, dated 29/10/99, are posted on Rapid.

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