Brussels, 27 January 2011
Environment: Commission takes Greece to Court for failing to protect Lake Koroneia
The European Commission is referring Greece to the European Court of Justice for its failure to protect Lake Koroneia, an internationally important wetland in the region of Thessaloniki. The lake has been seriously affected by pollution and illegal water extraction, with serious consequences for local fauna and flora. Although a comprehensive plan is in place to rehabilitate the lake, with many actions partly financed by EU funds, progress has been slow. At the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore referring the case to the Court of Justice.
Lake Koroneia is part of the Natura 2000 network, Europe's network of protected natural areas. Greece is currently failing to meet its obligations regarding the lake under several key directives – the Habitats and Birds Directives, the Urban Waste Water Treatment directive, and discharges into water of dangerous substances.
Following investigations by the Commission in 2002 into the pollution and degradation of the lake, the Greek authorities agreed to put in place a specific legal framework to address illegal activities on the site. A comprehensive action plan was put in place in 2004 to rehabilitate the wetland, with the bulk of actions to be co-financed by the EU funds. These actions include improving the physical characteristics of the lake (such as water level and depth), irrigation networks and the construction of sewerage and waste water treatment systems for the neighbouring agglomerations. The EU co-financing was conditional on concrete action to close illegal boreholes and control discharges of urban and industrial waste water into the lake. But the Commission has learned that many of the measures have still not been put into practice, and that most of the conditions set for the financing have not been implemented. A letter of formal notice was issued, followed by a reasoned opinion in May 2010 (see IP/10/525). Scant progress has now led the Commission to summon Greece before the Court. In addition, the Commission will now review the EU co-financing decision and decide whether the EU co-financing will continue.
Lake Koroneia has suffered from extensive illegal water abstraction for irrigation, which has drastically reduced the water level of a lake where several hundred families once earned a living by fishing. Fishing and bathing in the lake are no longer possible, and the lake 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 hosts numerous threatened, endemic and rare habitats, species and breeding, wintering or staging birds (e.g. the squacco heron Ardeola ralloides, white-tailed eagle Heliaetus albicilla, and the pygmy cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus) and is a Natura 2000 site protected under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. It is also listed under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of natural wetlands. Greece also has legal obligations for the area under the Directive on the discharge of dangerous substances into the aquatic environment, and the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive which requires Member States to conduct strict treatment of wastewater intended to be released into sensitive areas.
For current statistics on infringements in general see: