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Brussels, 16 February 2011

Environment: Commission seeks fines against Ireland for not adopting legislation to protect countryside heritage

The European Commission is taking Ireland back to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement an earlier ruling concerning developments that may harm the natural and man-made heritage of the countryside. Two years after the judgment, Ireland has still not adopted legislation to address the issue. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is referring the case back to Court and asking it to impose a lump-sum fine of more than €4000 per day for the period between the first Court ruling and the second Court ruling and a daily penalty payment of more than €33,000 per day for each day after the second Court ruling until the infringement ends.

Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment requires Member States to establish systems for deciding whether individual projects need to undergo an environmental impact assessment. The aim is to ensure that projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment are assessed in advance so that people are aware of what those effects are likely to be.

The decision on when a project needs to undergo an environmental impact assessment can be made based on thresholds, case-by-case analysis or a combination, or both. Whichever system they choose, Member States must take account of the specific selection criteria described in the Directive. These include sensitive locations such as sites protected under European nature legislation or landscapes of archaeological significance.

The case refers to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling against Ireland in November 2008. This found that the thresholds for undertaking an environmental impact assessment for certain types of projects, including the restructuring of rural landholdings and water management projects for irrigation or land drainage, were too high. They did not take enough account of sensitive countryside features. This led to loss of wetlands and other habitats and the destruction of archaeological remains without any environmental impact assessments ever being required.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Member States cannot select on the basis of project size alone – small projects can have significant impacts on important nature sites. Irish legislation uses very high thresholds – up to 100 hectares – to select projects for assessment. This means that projects can go ahead unchecked and damage or destroy archaeological sites, which generally occupy areas less than 1/100th of the size of the threshold, or other sensitive countryside features

The Commission sent a letter urging Ireland to comply with the Court ruling in March 2010 (see IP/10/313). However, more than two years after the judgment, Ireland has failed to adopt any legislation to resolve the issue. That is why the Commission is now referring the case back to the European Court of Justice and is asking for fines to be imposed.

More information on the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive:

For current statistics on infringements in general, see:

See also MEMO/11/86

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