Swathe of EU environmental law cases announced

Commission targets two-thirds of EU members for non-compliance with twelve directives

The majority of EU countries are being targeted by the European Commission in a new round of infringement proceedings for alleged non-compliance with European environmental laws. Only Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden escape the legal broadside, which concerns twelve directives.

Nevertheless, it is an absence from the list that has excited the most comment. Though under pressure to act from EU trade officials, commissioners decided to postpone once again a decision on whether to take action against Germany over its "refill quota" on drinks containers until after its September elections.

Among the proceedings announced during the week, France is to face a case in the European Court of Justice for long-standing failure to deal with high levels of nitrates in drinking water in the Brittany region. Under a 1975 EU law on surface waters intended for drinking water abstraction, nitrate should not exceed 50 milligrams per litre. In Brittany, the Commission says, levels are "consistently" over this level.

Three countries are to be taken to the European Court for non-compliance with the EU's 1994 packaging directive, which sets a common framework for managing packaging waste. Greece has not communicated legislation to implement the directive, the Commission says; Luxembourg has only communicated draft legislation; while Ireland's legislation does not cover all aspects required under the directive.

In the widest sweep announced this week, seven countries are to receive final warnings - reasoned opinions - for failure to draw up waste management plans as required under the EU's framework waste directive, hazardous waste directive and packaging waste directive. Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Greece are the alleged guilty parties.

The Netherlands, the UK and Greece are to receive final warnings over the 1994 EU directive on hazardous waste incineration. The Netherlands and Greece have not communicated legislation to implement the directive, the Commission says, while the UK has still to enact legislation covering Northern Ireland.

Germany is facing action on two fronts. The Commission is to apply to the European Court alleging failure to introduce all legislation needed to comply with a 1992 directive on titanium dioxide manufacturing waste. It will also send a final warning to stress its conviction that Schleswig Holstein's energy minister should be bound by the terms of the EU's 1990 directive on freedom of access to environmental information.

Spain is to be sent a reasoned opinion for granting approval to waste incinerators in La Palma, the Canary Islands, that do not comply with the EU's 1989 directive on new municipal waste incinerators. "Three non-compliant incinerators are in service...and the Commission has not received any timetable for their closure," the institution says.

Meanwhile, Portugal is to face court proceedings over defectives in legislation to implement the EU's directives on "contained use" and "deliberate release" of genetically modified organisms. Belgium and Greece will receive final warnings for non-respect of the same laws.

In other cases announced this week: Belgium is to receive a final warning for failure to designate a competent body under EU's ecolabel scheme; Greece will get a final warning for failure to communicate measures to establish an accreditation system or appoint a competent body as required under the EU eco-audit and management scheme (EMAS); and Italy is to be sent a final warning over alleged defects in its implementation of the 1985 EU directive on environmental assessment of certain projects.

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

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