European Commission Tells 12 Countries To Implement Environmental Crime Directives

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BRUSSELS—The European Commission June 16 warned 12 EU countries to implement legislation on the prosecution of environmental crimes or face being taken to the EU Court of Justice.

The countries have failed to transpose into their national codes of law one or both of two measures, the Environmental Crime Directive (2008/99/EC), and the related Directive on Criminal Sanctions for Ship-Source Pollution (2009/123/EC), the Commission said.

Cyprus, Germany, Malta, and Slovenia had not reported transposition of the environmental crime legislation, while Finland and Slovakia had not done so for the ship-source pollution law. The Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, and Romania had not implemented either directive, the Commission said.

The laws should have been in place by the end of 2010. The Commission said the countries will be taken to court if they do not complete implementation, or take clear steps to do so, within two months.

Twin Directives

The directives are similar in that they require EU countries to ensure that “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive” criminal penalties are in place for certain categories of serious waste dumping, negligent or deliberate pollution releases, illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances, and dumping of radioactive substances.

The laws were controversial when first proposed, because the Commission wanted to harmonize across Europe criminal penalties for the offenses covered. Member states rejected this as an interference in their sovereignty, obtaining a court judgment under which the Commission could require the criminalization of certain violations, but not specify sanctions (31 INER 473, 5/28/08).

Commission spokesman Matthew Newman said there was no evidence countries were slow to implement the legislation because of remaining concerns about the limits of the Commission's powers.

Member states “all signed up for it, and they all have to actually do it. The priority is to get them to apply the rules as they are now,” he said.

Spanish Case

Separately June 16, the Commission said it was taking Spain to the EU Court of Justice in two cases relating to failure to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities and to failure to submit river basin management plans by a deadline of Dec. 22, 2009.

In the wastewater case, a number of Spanish towns and cities are discharging untreated effluent into environmentally sensitive areas in breach of legislation under which wastewater facilities should have been upgraded by 1998.

Commission spokesman Joe Hennon said Spain may have been slow in improving infrastructure in some places because different authorities had responsibility for water management. “We urge all Spanish authorities involved in water management to work together,” he said.

In another case, the Commission told Greece to comply with a 2010 EU Court of Justice judgment requiring it to update environmental permits issued to industrial plants, as set out by the Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control Directive (2008/1/EC).

Greece could be taken back to court and potentially fined if it remained noncompliant, the Commission said.

By Stephen Gardner

Information on the enforcement of EU environmental legislation is available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/legal/implementation_en.htm .