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Brussels, 27 June 2007

Environment: Belgium and Italy receive final warning of possible fines over infringements of EU law

The European Commission is sending Belgium and Italy final warnings that they will face renewed court action and possible fines if they do not fully transpose EU environmental laws over which they were condemned by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last year. Belgium’s Flemish region has not transposed the EU’s directive on strategic environmental assessment, while Italy’s transposition of the Water Framework Directive is still incomplete. Should Belgium and Italy fail to remedy these shortcomings in response to the final warnings, the Commission has the powers under Article 228 of the Treaty to ask the ECJ to impose fines against both Member States.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Europe’s citizens look to the European Union to protect their environment, but our action cannot be effective if Member States do not follow through on their commitments. Belgium and Italy are more than two years late in transposing this important legislation. I urge them to do so fully without any further delay.

Strategic environmental assessment in Belgium’s Flemish Region

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive[1] seeks to ensure that the environmental consequences of certain public plans and programmes that are likely to have significant environmental effects are identified and assessed while they are being prepared and before they are approved. The types of plans and programmes covered include those in the transport, agriculture, industry and tourism sectors. By involving the public and integrating environmental considerations at an early stage, the directive contributes to more transparent planning processes.

Following an infringement procedure[2] brought by the Commission, the ECJ ruled in December 2006 that Belgium had not complied with its obligations because the Flemish Region had not transposed the SEA directive. The deadline for doing so was 21 July 2004.

Since the ECJ judgement the Flemish government has taken steps towards transposing the directive but has not yet completed the process. In view of the continuing infringement of EU law, the Commission sent Belgium a first warning letter under Article 228 in March 2007 and is now sending a final warning that Flanders must fully comply with the directive.

Water Framework Directive in Italy

The Water Framework Directive[3] is the cornerstone of EU water protection policy. It establishes a European framework for the protection of all water bodies in the European Union - rivers, lakes, coastal waters and groundwater. Its objective is that all water resources should be of good quality by 2015. This is to be reached through curbs on pollution and cooperative management of water resources within each river basin.

Following an infringement procedure[4] brought by the Commission, the ECJ condemned Italy on 12 January 2006 for failing to transpose the directive. The deadline for doing so was 22 December 2003.

In May 2006 Italy sent the Commission the text of a legislative decree transposing the Water Framework Directive. The Commission’s view, however, is that the decree does not achieve full transposition. In particular, provisions laying down conditions that must be met if a Member State wishes to derogate from the directive’s environmental objectives and timetable have been transposed only partially.

Consequently, the Commission sent Italy a first warning under Article 228 in December 2006. As the situation has not changed materially since then, the Commission is now sending a final warning letter.

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 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment

[2] Case C-2006/054

[3] Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy

[4] Case C-2005/085

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