EU Commission in green legal broadside

Belgium the chief environmental villain, daily fines requested against Italy,

The EU is to launch its largest ever batch of infringement actions against member states for non-compliance with environmental laws, following a meeting of European Commissioners earlier this month.

The size of the initiative was described as unfortunate but necessary by the EU environment commissioner's spokesperson, Peter Jørgensen. He stressed the Commission's determination to ensure full national compliance with European environmental laws, but denied that there was any special legal push behind the new infringement actions.

In total, around 90 infringement actions are to be taken. By today, only a minority of these had been formally announced, but ENDS Daily understands that every EU member state will receive a legal "Christmas present".

Several of the actions are being taken against member states that have not complied with a previous court judgement. The balance are applications to the European Court of Justice for the first time or reasoned opinions, the Commission's final warning before it launches a court action. The highlights of the cases announced so far are actions against Italy and Belgium.

The Commission is to allege before the European Court for a second time that Italy has failed to comply with the EU's 1991 directive on urban waste water. Moreover, it is to ask the Court to impose a daily penalty against Italy of Ecu185,850 if it wins the case. The Commission only won the right to call for fines last year and this remains one of its first requests (ENDS Daily 16 December 1997).

A second highlight of the Commission's decisions is Belgium's strikingly poor level of compliance with EU environmental laws. Not all the cases have been made public yet, but Belgium is likely to be cited in "every second" of the twenty-five or so press notices expected to be released, according to Peter Jørgensen.

The cases publicised by the Commission up to today are as follows, classified by the EU directive. Fuller details of each are available in Commission press releases, which it has posted on the world wide web.

* Urban waste water directive, 1991. Court application against ITALY under article 171 of the EU treaty. Failure to adopt and communicate legislation to implement the directive as required by 1993, despite a court judgement in December 1996. Daily penalty of Ecu185,850 requested

* Wild birds directive, 1979. Court applications against BELGIUM and ITALY over sales of wild bird "derivatives" in the Brussels region and Italy's manner of implementing the directive's derogation regime respectively. Reasoned opinion to FINLAND for notifying too few "special protection areas".

* Packaging and packaging waste directive, 1994. Two court applications against BELGIUM for failure to communicate measures on heavy metals in packaging and failure to draw up a chapter on packaging waste in waste management plans.

* Ecolabel regulation, 1992. Court action against BELGIUM for failure to create a competent body to implement the regulation in Belgium.

* Waste oils directive, 1975, as amended in 1987. Court action against PORTUGAL for incomplete implementation, and particularly a failure to require waste oil regeneration facilities to use the "best available technology not entailing excessive cost".

* Nitrate pollution directive, 1991. Court action against GREECE for incomplete implementation, and particularly a failure to designate vulnerable zones and action programmes.

* Reporting directive, 1991. Reasoned opinions to BELGIUM, ITALY and PORTUGAL for failure to full meet the requirement to report on implementation of EU water directives as required by September 1996.

* Classification, packaging and labelling of chemicals, 1967, as amended by directives 96/54/EEC and 96/56/EC. Reasoned opinions to BELGIUM, GERMANY, GREECE and PORTUGAL for failure to communicate implementing legislation. (The action against Germany applies only to directive 96/56/EC).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111. References: Press notices on all cases mentioned are available on the Commission's Rapid service, (English language only).

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