Brussels, 12 December 2006
The Commission has decided to refer Greece to the European Court of Justice, for failing to properly staff its veterinary services. This persistent understaffing of the veterinary services has resulted in poor controls and inadequate enforcement of EU food safety and animal health legislation in Greece. .
Despite actions since the reasoned opinion of 2004, Greece has still only created and filled a fraction of the posts necessary to ensure proper implementation and enforcement of EU veterinary legislation. Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said “Without adequate staff, there cannot be full and proper veterinary controls. And without these controls, the high level of food safety that we seek to guarantee in all Member States cannot be assured. “
Under EU food safety legislation, Member States are responsible for ensuring that the rules are properly enforced and complied with. FVO missions to Greece have consistently reported shortcomings in the enforcement of EU food law, due to the severe understaffing of the veterinary services, both at central and at regional level (prefectures). The Commission took the view that, because of the inadequate staffing levels, veterinary and other food safety and animal welfare controls were not being carried out in accordance with EU law.
A Reasoned Opinion was sent to Greece in 2004, and the Greek authorities were then provided with a reasonable timeframe in which to upgrade the veterinary services and recruit qualified personnel. They were requested to provide bi-monthly updates on their recruitment of new veterinary staff, so that the Commission could monitor the progress being made.
Although these reports showed a certain degree of improvement since the infringement proceedings were first launched, the overall situation remains unsatisfactory.
The Commission is also concerned that many of the recruitments being committed to by the Greek authorities do not actually amount to a net increase in the number of staff available. In fact, these new recruits are being used to replace staff who have either recently retired or are about to retire. Recent FVO inspection reports confirm the lack of substantial improvement, which means that the standard in the enforcement of EU veterinary legislation continues to be very poor. For this reason, the Commission now has no alternative but to refer the case to the Court of Justice.
Two more cases concerning infringements of EU veterinary legislation by Greece are currently pending and are also at an advanced stage. They are directly linked to the problem of understaffing so any steps taken by Greek authorities in this regard will have a direct impact also on those cases.