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Brussels, 31 January 2008

Italy: Commission sends final warning over waste crisis in Campania region

The European Commission is sending Italy a final written warning over the chronic waste crisis plaguing Naples and the rest of the Campania region. Since just before Christmas thousands of tonnes of garbage have been left uncollected by the roadside in Campania because waste disposal sites are full. This situation has led to incidents in which angry residents have set fire to waste piles in the streets. The uncollected waste and the open fires pose serious health and environmental risks through the spread of disease and pollution of air, water and land. While Italy has already taken some measures to deal with the waste crisis, this final warning means that Italy will be taken to the European Court of Justice unless it brings arrangements for dealing with waste in the region fully into line with the requirements of EU waste legislation. In view of the situation’s urgency and gravity, the Commission is giving Italy one month to respond instead of the usual two month deadline.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The situation in Campania is intolerable and I fully understand the frustrations of residents who fear for their health. It is essential that the Italian authorities not only take effective measures to resolve the current emergency, as they are already doing, but also put in place the waste management infrastructure needed to provide a sustainable solution to problems which date back more than a decade. The Commission will continue its legal action, and if necessary use its powers to seek fines, until the situation in Campania is brought into line with the EU waste management standards that Italy and all other Member States have agreed to.”

First warning letter

The Commission sent Italy a first warning letter ('letter of formal notice') over the situation in Campania last June (see IP/07/935). This action was taken after garbage in the region had been left uncollected for a period during the spring of 2007, forcing the closure of schools on health grounds and leading residents to set fire to piles of rubbish bags in the streets.

The Italian government had responded to that episode by adopting a decree-law setting out emergency measures for the region including the opening of four new waste landfill sites. However the Commission concluded that the decree-law provided only limited solutions. In particular it failed to take a systematic and long-term approach to resolving a crisis that has been caused by the Italian authorities’ systematic failure to provide for an adequate network of waste disposal installations in Campania.

The Commission therefore took the view in its first warning letter that Italy had failed to fulfil its obligations under the directive EU’s Waste Framework Directive[1] by not putting in place an appropriate disposal network ensuring a high level of protection for the environment and public health in the region. Campania’s waste management deficiences included a lack of municipal waste collection and the illegal disposal of waste, including in urban areas.
The directive 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.

Additional warning letter
In the light of Italy’s response to the first letter and meetings with the Italian authorities, including a visit by officials from the Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment to see the situation in Campania at first hand, the Commission concluded that more action was needed by the Italian authorities. Last October the Commission sent Italy an additional letter of formal notice pointing, in addition to the deficiences already identified, to the lack of a waste management plan for Campania as required by the directive. A waste management plan for the region was adopted more than 10 years ago but never properly implemented.

Final warning letter
In view of the continuing and apparently worsening waste crisis in Campania seen in recent weeks, the Commission believes the Italian authorities need to redouble their efforts to resolve both the immediate crisis and the longer term structural problems resulting from the region’s inadequate waste disposal infrastructure.

The new emergency measures set out in the "Ordinanza" (legal notice) adopted by the Italian government on 11 January 2008, should help to improve the situation in the short term, but they fail to provide a longer term solution to ensure waste management in Campania in a manner consistent with EC legislation. Given the potentially grave health and environmental problems posed by the continuing crisis the Commission, while welcoming the efforts undertaken by the Italian authorities to solve the crisis, has no option but to continue the infringement procedure by sending Italy a final written warning.

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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