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IP/11/170

Brussels, 16 February 2011

Environment: Commission asks the Netherlands to comply with Court ruling on environmental impact assessments

The European Commission is urging the Netherlands to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling in a long-running case concerning the impact of certain projects on the environment. Despite a Court judgment on the case, which dates back to 2006, the Netherlands has failed to take satisfactory action. On the recommendation of EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore sending a letter of formal notice. If the Netherlands fails to comply, it could face a second Court referral and financial penalties.

On 15 October 2009, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Netherlands had failed to comply with Directive 85/337/EEC on assessing the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment.

Under the legislation, Member States are required to establish systems for deciding whether individual projects need to undergo an environmental impact assessment (EIA). 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.

Dutch legislation sets thresholds above which an EIA is required. However, problems were identified with how these thresholds were determined. The Court found that the system did not sufficiently take all possible impacts into account.

Following the Court judgement, the Netherlands indicated that it would modify its legislation by the end of 2010. However, the Dutch authorities have since informed the Commission that the adoption has been delayed until mid 2011. Ensuring the timely follow up of Court rulings is a priority for the Commission, especially as projects that go ahead unchecked in the meantime could have a negative impact on the environment. Given the delay and the fact that the Court ruling was in October 2009, the Commission has decided to issue a letter of formal notice giving the Netherlands two months to comply. If appropriate action is not taken, the Commission may decide to refer the case back to Court and request financial penalties.

Background

Under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, possible impacts of projects on the environment are identified and assessed before projects are allowed to begin. This enables planners to adjust projects and minimise negative impacts before they actually happen.

The Directive also ensures early public participation in the environmental decision-making procedures. For this to work, members of the public concerned must be able to comment while all options are still open to the competent authority, i.e. before a final decision is taken on the request for development.

More information on the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eia/eia-legalcontext.htm

For current statistics on infringements in general, see:

http://ec.europa.eu/community_law/infringements/infringements_en.htm

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

See also MEMO/11/86


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