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Brussels, 27 June 2007

Italy: Commission starts legal action over waste crisis in Campania region

The European Commission is launching legal action against Italy over the chronic waste crisis affecting Naples and the rest of the Campania region. Thousands of tonnes of garbage have been left uncollected in the streets and waste has been disposed of at illegal dump sites. This situation poses serious health and environmental risks through the spread of disease and through pollution of air, water and land. The Commission considers that the region’s waste disposal installations are inadequate and pose serious problems for human health and the environment. This constitutes a violation of EU waste legislation. The Commission is therefore sending Italy a first written warning and requesting information about the measures being taken to protect human health and the environment in the region. In parallel the Commission is assessing government plans to open four new waste landfill sites in Campania to check their compliance with EU law and to understand if they will help solve the region's waste problems, especially in the longer term.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The television reports we have all seen showing piles of garbage rotting in the streets of Campania or set on fire by angry residents have been truly shocking. I urge the Italian authorities to act urgently to bring waste management facilities in the Campania region up to standard so that waste is collected and disposed of without endangering human health or the environment, as European law requires.”

The EU's Waste Framework Directive[1] requires member states to take the necessary measures to prevent waste from being abandoned, dumped or disposed of in an uncontrolled way. They must also ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health or harming the environment. Furthermore, measures must be taken to establish an adequate network of disposal installations to ensure a high level of protection for the environment and human health.

The Commission takes the view that Italy has failed to fulfil its obligations under the directive by not putting in place an appropriate network of disposal facilities ensuring a high level of protection for the environment and public health in the Campania region.

The region’s waste management deficiences include a lack of municipal waste collection and the illegal disposal of waste, including in urban areas. The health risks posed by the piles of rubbish left in the streets has forced the closure of schools, while the risk from pollution has been aggravated by residents setting fire to the uncollected waste, releasing toxic substances into the environment.

Furthermore, a recent study coordinated by the World Health Organisation showed increased mortality rates among people living near illegal waste dumps in the provinces of Naples and Caserta.

Reflecting the urgency and gravity of the situation, the Commission is giving Italy one month to respond to its warning letter instead of the usual two-month deadline.

The Commission considers it essential that the Italian authorities resolve the current crisis as quickly as possible but also that they establish a framework for waste collection and disposal that is compatible with the principles of EU waste legislation in order to protect human health and the environment.

The Commission is assessing whether plans to open 4 new landfill sites in Campania comply with all relevant requirements of EU environmental legislation and whether they will help solve the region's waste problems, not only in the short term but also in the longer term. The new landfills are provided for in a government decree issued in May which sets out 'extraordinary measures' to address the Campania waste crisis.

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 2006/12/EC on waste

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