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Brussels, 16 February 2011

Environment: Commission urges Greece to comply with Court ruling over lack of urban waste water treatment

The European Commission is urging Greece to take action to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling to ensure proper urban waste water treatment in nine towns and cities. The lack of treatment systems, which should have been in place in 2000, poses risks to the health of people living there. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending a letter of formal notice under ongoing infringement proceedings. If Greece fails to comply, the Commission could refer the case back to the Court and ask for financial penalties.

In a case brought by the Commission (see IP/06/878), the European Court of Justice ruled in October 2007 that Greece was in breach of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive as 23 agglomerations (towns and cities) across the country did not have the necessary collection and treatment systems.

Since the judgment and a subsequent Letter of Formal Notice sent on 1 December 2008, 14 of these areas have conformed to the legislation, but the other nine are still in breach of the rules. In four heavily populated areas in eastern Attica – Markopoulo, Artemida, Rafina, and Koropi – construction works, co-financed from the EU budget, are not due to be completed until 2013. In another, Nea Makri, the location selected for the project has been rejected. The Commission considers that this time delay is unacceptable because of risks to the health of citizens living in the areas. In Litohoro and Lefkimmi, construction work is still under way, while in two other agglomerations, Edessa and Megara, infrastructure has been completed but no sampling results are available to show it is operating properly.

The lack of treatment poses a risk for the health of residents and marine environment. Proper waste water treatment is recognised as an important factor in ensuring a thriving tourist industry, a key sector for the Greek economy.

In view of the situation, the Commission is giving Greece two months to comply with the ruling. Failing this, the case may be referred back to the European Court of Justice.

Urban waste water treatment

Under the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, agglomerations (towns and cities) of more than 15,000 inhabitants were required to have adequate systems for collecting and treating their waste water by 31 December 2000.  

The main type of waste water treatment envisaged by the directive is biological or 'secondary' to remove pollutants before it is discharged into the sea or fresh waters.

More details on Urban Wastewater Treatment directive:

For current statistics on infringements in general, see:

See also MEMO/11/86

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