European Commission - Press release
Environment: Commission asks Austria to comply with EU legislation on environmental impact assessments
Brussels, 26 April 2012 – The European Commission is urging Austria to bring its national legislation on environmental impact assessment into line with EU rules. The Commission is concerned that the potential environmental effects of a development to an Austrian ski-run were not assessed as required by EU law. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore sending Austria a reasoned opinion. In the absence of a satisfactory response within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.
The EU's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive ensures that Member States assess the effects of certain private and public projects on the environment, including the construction of ski-runs, ski-lifts, cable cars and associated developments. Austrian legislation currently exempts projects from this requirement if they are classified as sanitation or adaptation measures.
Austria applied this exemption when asking the operator of an underground funicular (Stollenbahn) to provide an emergency path for the evacuation of the glacier skiing area "Pitztaler Gletscher" in the Tyrol region. According to the Commission, the administrative classification of a project or its consideration as a safety measure cannot exclude it a priori from the application of the EIA Directive. Such a precedent would risk opening the way to potential loopholes that could ultimately result in serious negative impacts.
The Commission sent related Letters of Formal Notice to Austria on 23 November 2009 and in 17 June 2011. Austria maintained its view that that the exemption from the necessity of an EIA was in line with the requirements of the EIA directive. The Commission disagrees and is therefore sending a reasoned opinion, giving Austria two months to reply.
The aim of the EIA Directive is to ensure that projects which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment are adequately assessed before they are approved. Hence, before any decision is taken to allow such a project to proceed, its possible impacts on the environment are identified and assessed. Developers can then adjust projects to minimise negative impacts before they actually occur, or the competent authorities can incorporate mitigation measures into the project approval.
For current statistics on infringements in general:
See also: MEMO/12/279
More details on environmental assessment policy:
Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)
Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)