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EU green law infringement rate still rising

7th October 2002

Environment Daily News Service

The number of infringement proceedings against EU member states allegedly breaking the bloc's environmental laws is continuing to rise despite European Commission efforts to improve implementation and enforcement of green legislation. The conclusion emerges from the third biannual survey of the application of EU environmental laws, published by the Commission's environment directorate.

The survey covers the period from 2000 to 2001 and is the first to consider only those developments that have occurred since commissioner Margot Wallström's appointment as political boss of the Commission's environment directorate in 1999. As such it is the first comprehensive measure of her promise to reduce offences by member states.

For the first time the report presents an infringements "scoreboard" showing the number of actions being taken against member states in various fields of EU environmental law. This shows that not a single member state has escaped Commission proceedings of some kind.

The increased number of cases detailed in the new report stems from a corresponding rise in complaints received by the directorate's legal unit - 600 in 2001 alone. Among other factors, the Commission puts this down to increasing public concern on environmental issues. The high number of complaints reflects the "inexistence and/or the relative lack of efficiency" of national complaint mechanisms, it says.

The scoreboard reveals that 301 infringement actions were outstanding against the EU's 15 members at the end of last year. Of these, 126 were for "non-communication" of measures to implement EU laws; the UK is the worst offender with 19 actions outstanding. A further 86 cases allege "non-conformity" of national implementing legislation with the relevant EU laws; this time Austria tops with 19 cases outstanding. The remaining 89 cases are for "bad application" of obligations contained in EU directives; here Belgium leads with ten cases.

A breakdown of infringement actions shows over a quarter relate to EU nature conservation laws - essentially the twin directives on birds and habitat that underpin the emerging Natura 2000 network. A fifth of cases concern waste laws, while air and water quality infringements account for around 14% each.

John Hontelez of green group the European environmental bureau acknowledged that commissioner Wallström had given greater priority to enforcing existing EU laws but said she had failed to strengthen the directorate's legal unit. This was woefully undermanned, dealing with twice as many cases per staff member as other Commission departments, he said.

European Commission environment directorate,
tel: +32 2 299 1111,
and implementation and enforcement survey.