Brussels, 5 May 2010
Environment: Final warning for Greece over lack of measures to protect important wetland
The European Commission is pursuing 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 second and final written warning for failing to implement the necessary legal protection and conservation framework for the site.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Wetlands are sites of exceptional biodiversity and are crucial to maintaining the ecological balance of nature. I urge the Greek authorities to make additional efforts to fully implement the measures necessary to protect this important and highly endangered wetland."
Final written warning for Greece over Lake Koroneia
The European Commission is sending Greece a second and final written warning over inadequate protection and conservation measures for Lake Koroneia, an internationally important wetland.
Following investigations by the Commission in 2002 into 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 comprehensive action plan to rehabilitate the wetland, with the bulk of actions to be co-financed by the Commission. These actions include improving the physical characteristics of the lake (such as water level and depth), irrigation networks and the construction of sewage systems.
However, progress to implement the protection measures has been slow – even after the first written warning – and the illegal activities identified in the Letter of Formal Notice have not ceased and are still contributing to the degradation of the lake. Furthermore, the actions mentioned in the master plan have still not been carried out. The Commission considers that Greece has still not taken adequate action to prevent the degradation of the lake and disturbance of fauna and flora. It is therefore sending a second and final warning letter. If Greece fails to respond adequately, the Commission could refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
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 Birds1 and Habitats2 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 environment3, and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive4 which requires Member States to conduct strict treatment of wastewater intended to be released into sensitive areas.
For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:
Council Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds
Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna
2006/11/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006 on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment of the Community
Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment