States struggle on EU waste and nature laws

Poor implementation and enforcement of EU waste and nature conservation legislation accounted for almost half of environmental infringement proceedings the European Commission brought against member states last year. The UK has struggled in particular.

The implementation of EU legislation has come under the spotlight in recent months as opponents of more environmental lawmaking have argued for a freeze until the existing body of law is implemented properly (ENDS Reports 365, pp 22-25  and 367, pp 43-44 ).

The Commission's latest annual survey of the implementation and enforcement of EU environmental legislation reveals a big gap between member states' commitments and their actions.1Environmental cases accounted for around a third of all infringement cases brought by the Commission against member states. There were 570 such cases open in 2004 - up from 509 the previous year.

The Commission puts the increase down to the EU's expansion to include ten more member states. Some 49 cases were brought against new member states in 2004 - all for non-communication. It also pointed out that 2004 saw seven deadlines for transposing Directives come and go, compared with four in 2003.

Waste and nature conservation laws accounted for 49.5% of environmental infringement cases, with 143 (25.1%) and 139 (24.4%) respectively. The Commission highlights illegal and uncontrolled landfills as a big problem across the EU, and it has referred a number of member states to the European Court of Justice for inadequate waste planning.

Bird hunting in contravention of the wild birds Directive 1979 was a major cause of infringements and, along with delays in proposing Special Protected Areas under this Directive and Special Areas of Conservation under the habitats Directive, accounted for the majority of nature conservation cases.

Air legislation accounted for 96 cases (16.8%) and water laws for 86 (15.1%). The other two most important areas related to impact assessment laws with 70 cases (12.3%), and chemicals/biotechnology legislation with 19 cases (3.3%).

The Commission distinguishes between three different types of infringement: non-communication - where a member state fails to transpose the Directive within the time limit; non-conformity - where the measures do not conform with the Directive's requirements; and bad application - where member states do not comply with the law.

Well over half of the cases were brought because of bad application of legislation. Most of these relate to the failure to take actions such as preparing plans, producing reports or designating areas required by the legislation.

When the figures are broken down by member state, Italy fares worst with 75 cases, followed by Spain with 66. The Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania came top with no cases.

There were 37 cases outstanding against the UK in 2004, but more than half were classed as bad application infringements.

The UK also appears to be one of the worst member states in transposing the requirements of EU Directives into national law. The UK had the third highest number of non-conformity cases in 2004 with 12.

The Commission singled out the UK's failure to apply the 1985 EIA Directive to projects on Crown land and for its incomplete transposition of the Directive in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Commission also highlighted ECJ rulings against the UK in 2004, including failure to transpose the end of life vehicles Directive and the hazardous waste Directive.

In a foreword to the report, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas promised to make better implementation of EU legislation one of his priorities over the coming years and called on member states to increase efforts to comply.

He pledged to help member states comply with legislation by providing more guidance on transposition and holding meetings to head off problems before they arrive. But he also warned that violations would continue to result in legal action.

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