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Brussels, 6 May 2008

Italy: Commission pursues legal action over waste management in the Campania and Lazio regions

The European Commission is continuing legal action against Italy over two cases involving violations of EU legislation to protect human health and the environment against the risks posed by waste. The Commission is taking Italy to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the waste crisis that has plagued Naples and the Campania region. It is also sending Italy a first written warning for failing to comply in the Lazio region with an ECJ judgement that found it in breach of its obligations to adopt regional waste management plans. In this second case the Commission has the power to ask the Court to impose fines if Italy does not comply.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The piles of uncollected rubbish in the streets of Campania graphically illustrate the threat to the environment and human health that results when waste management is inadequate. Italy needs to give priority to putting in place effective waste management plans in Campania and Lazio as well as the collection and treatment infrastructure needed to implement them properly."

Court case over Campania

The case concerns the dramatic waste crisis that has affected Naples and the Campania region. During the spring of 2007 garbage was left uncollected for weeks, forcing the closure of schools on health grounds and leading frustrated residents to set fire to rubbish bags piled up in the streets. The uncollected waste and open fires posed serious health and environmental risks through the spread of disease and pollution of air, water and land. The Commission consequently opened an infringement procedure against Italy last June for violating the EU’s Waste Framework Directive[1] (see IP/07/935).

This situation repeated itself in December 2007 and the Commission reacted by sending a final warning on 1 February 2008, with a one-month deadline for Italy to reply given the urgency of the crisis (see IP/08/151). The Commission conducted a fact-finding mission to Naples and the surrounding area in February and received Italy’s response in early March.

While the immediate crisis has eased recently, with rubbish being cleared from the streets following the government’s appointment of a new 'Waste Emergency Commissioner' for the region, the Commission takes the view that the measures being taken are inadequate to address Campania’s waste problems in the long term and prevent a repeat of the unacceptable events seen over the past year. A new waste management plan for the region was adopted in late December 2007 but the Commission is aware that the previous plan, adopted more than 10 years ago, was never properly implemented.

Campania is today still far from establishing an effective management system that addresses the collection, treatment and disposal of waste. Furthermore, the Italian authorities have been unable to give a clear timetable for the completion and entry into operation of the sorting plants, landfills, incinerators and other infrastructure needed to resolve the region’s waste problems.

The Commission has therefore decided to take Italy to the ECJ for failing to comply with the Waste Framework Directive. The directive requires Member States, inter alia, to ensure that waste is recovered or disposed of without endangering human health, to prohibit the abandonment or uncontrolled disposal of waste, and to establish an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations.

Lack of waste management plan for Lazio region

The Commission is sending Italy a first warning letter under Article 228 of the Treaty over the Lazio region's failure to adopt a waste management plan. Article 228 applies when a Member State has failed to comply fully with an ECJ judgement. It gives the Commission the power, after issuing two warnings, to take the Member State to the Court a second time and to ask for fines to be imposed.

In a ruling[2] sought by the Commission, the ECJ in June 2007 condemned Italy for lacking waste management plans for a number of regions and provinces. These plans are obligatory under the Waste Framework Directive and the Hazardous Waste Directive.[3] Italy subsequently adopted waste management plans for all the regions and provinces concerned except the Lazio region. The Italian authorities have informed the Commission that steps are being taken to adopt the plan for Lazio but so far none has materialised. The Commission is thus opening an infringement procedure under Article 228.

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

[2] Case C-082/06

[3] Directive 91/689/EEC

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