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IP/09/1025

Brussels, 25 June 2009

Greece: Commission pursues legal action over lack of measures to protect important wetland

The European Commission is launching legal proceedings against Greece for failing to put in place adequate measures to protect one of Europe's most important wetlands. The case relates to the pollution and degradation of Lake Koroneia in the region of Thessaloniki. Greece is being sent a first written warning for failing to implement the legal protection and conservation framework necessary for the site.

Written warning for Greece over Lake Koroneia

The European Commission is sending Greece a first written warning over inadequate protection and conservation measures for Lake Koroneia, an internationally important wetland.

Following infringement proceedings in 2002 relating to the pollution and degradation of the lake, the Greek authorities committed to put in place a specific legal framework and address illegal activities on the site. The Greek authorities established the legal framework and adopted a management and restoration plan to rehabilitate the wetland, with many of the actions to be co-financed by the Commission.

However, progress to implement the protection measures has been slow. The Commission considers that Greece has not taken adequate action to prevent the degradation of the lake and disturbance of fauna and flora. The Commission has therefore decided to open a new infringement case and send a first written warning to Greece.

Environmental issues at Lake Koroneia

Lake Koroneia is affected by heavy water abstraction for irrigation purposes, which has drastically reduced the water level of the lake. It is also seriously polluted by discharges of nutrients, heavy metals and other pollutants from industries and towns in the surrounding area. These nutrients promote excessive growth of algae that chokes off other life, a process known as eutrophication.

The lake is a Natura 2000 site protected under the EU Birds 1 and Habitats 2 Directives. It hosts numerous threatened, endemic or rare habitats, species and birds and is listed under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of natural wetlands.

In addition, Greece has an obligation under the Directive on the discharge of dangerous substances into the aquatic environment 3 , and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive 4 which requires Member States to conduct strict treatment of wastewater intended to be released into sensitive areas.

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 within 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" (second and 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, normally two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European 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:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/legal/implementation_en.htm

For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:

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

1 :

Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds

2 :

Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna

3 :

Council Directive 76/464/EEC on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment of the Community

4 :

Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment


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