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IP/07/1531

Brussels, 17 October 2007

United Kingdom: Commission takes legal action for non-compliance with Court decisions

The European Commission is taking legal action against the United Kingdom for not fully complying with European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments in two separate cases. In the first case the Commission is sending the United Kingdom a second written warning for failing to comply with an ECJ ruling asking it to amend its law on environmental impact assessments. In the second case the Commission is sending a first written warning because the United Kingdom has not completely complied with an ECJ judgement on the treatment of urban waste water in seven towns. At the same time, the Commission welcomes steps taken by the United Kingdom to address illegal cross-border waste transfers, with a co-operation document agreed between the United Kingdom and Ireland on combating illegal waste exports.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "European environmental legislation is designed to protect the environment and health of EU citizens. Member States have an obligation to provide citizens in urban and rural areas with the highest level of environmental and health protection. I urge the UK authorities to swiftly abide by the Court decisions on the proper assessment of development projects' impact on the environment and on the treatment of polluted wastewater in certain towns in the United Kingdom."

Environmental impact assessment

The Commission is sending the United Kingdom a second written warning for failing to comply with a May 2006 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive[1]. Under the directive Member States are obliged to carry out environmental impact assessments before certain types of public and private projects believed to have a significant impact on the environment are authorised. The Court concluded that the UK law on impact assessment was contrary to certain requirements of the EU directive. Under the UK law impact assessments can only be required at the early stages of urban development projects where the broad principles are laid out. Under UK law an impact assessment is not required at the stage where details on landscaping, design and site access are decided. In its ruling the Court found that in such multi-stage development assent procedures all stages of these procedures must be subject to an environmental impact assessment. The case originates from concerns about proposals to build a large leisure complex on parkland in Crystal Palace, London.

Following the Court's ruling the United Kingdom indicated it would be drafting new legislation amending the law on environmental impact assessments. To date the Commission has not been notified of any such new legislation having being adopted and is thus sending the United Kingdom a second written warning.

Urban waste water treatment

In the second case the Commission is sending the United Kingdom a first written warning for failure to fully abide by a January 2007 ECJ ruling on Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive[2]. Under the directive Member States must ensure that towns with a population of 15,000 or above have treatment facilities that remove excessive levels of nutrients from wastewater originating from such urban areas. The Court found that 13 UK towns did not meet this obligation.

In April 2007 the United Kingdom informed the Commission that six of these towns now have wastewater treatment facilities in place. However, there are still seven remaining towns (Bangor, Brighton, Broadstairs, Corelaine, Donaghadee, Margate and Portrush) that do not have adequate wastewater treatment facilities. The Commission is thus sending the United Kingdom a first written warning asking these seven towns to be provided with appropriate treatment facilities as soon as possible. The Commission is also asking that the treatment facilities in the six other towns be verified for their full compliance with the directive.

Co-operation document on illegal waste exports

The Commission welcomes the adoption of a co-operation document aimed at strengthening contacts between the United Kingdom and Ireland in order to combat illegal waste exports. In 2004, the Commission became aware of a significant problem of illegal waste exports from Ireland to Northern Ireland and contacted each Member State. Since then, the two jurisdictions have worked more closely together to deal with the problem and have agreed a co-operation document.

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 rulings by the European Court of Justice see:

http://curia.eu.int/en/content/juris/index.htm


[1] Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

[2] Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) on urban waste water treatment.


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