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Brussels, 29 June 2006

Commission takes Greece to Court over lack of waste water treatment

The European Commission is taking Greece to the European Court of Justice for failing to ensure proper treatment of urban waste water in 24 towns and cities across the country. This should have been done by the end of 2000. The lack of treatment means that the health of residents in these areas is being put at risk since untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. Untreated waste water also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes off other life.

Under the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive[1], towns and cities of more than 15,000 inhabitants are required to have sewerage systems for collecting their waste water as well as facilities for giving the waste water secondary (i.e biological) treatment to remove pollutants before it is discharged into the sea or fresh waters. The deadline for this infrastructure to be operational was 31 December 2000.

In Greece, however, waste water collection systems and secondary treatment facilities are still lacking in 24 towns and cities with populations of 15,000 or more. These are: Artemida, Rafina, N.Makri, Koropi, Markopoulo, Megara, N.Kydonia, Malia, Chrysoupoli, Porou-Galata, Tripoli, Katerini, Preveza, Litohoro, Zakynthos, Alexandreia, Lefkimi, Nafpaktos, Igoumentitsa, Thessaloniki-touristic zone, Irakleio, Edessa, Kalymnos and Paroikia Parou.

Waste water treatment is lacking in these towns and cities even though Greece is eligible for, and has received, considerable EU funding for improvements to its environmental infrastructure through the Structural and Cohesion Funds. Proper waste water treatment is recognised as an important factor in ensuring a thriving tourist industry, a key sector for the Greek economy.

The Commission sent Greece a final written warning over its violation of the directive in July 2005. From the information provided by the Greek authorities in response, it is clear that in some agglomerations in the region of Eastern Attiki (Artemida, Rafina, N.Makri, Koropi) the permitting procedures for building the necessary infrastructure have not even begun. For the rest, construction is under way in the majority of the agglomerations but the collection and treatment systems are not expected to be fully operational for some time.

In view of this unsatisfactory situation, which continues to pose a potential danger to human health and the environment, the Commission has decided to take Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For current statistics on infringements in general see:

[1] Directive 91/271/EEC

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