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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission asks Italy to strengthen laws on environmental liability

Brussels, 26 January 2011 – The Commission is concerned that Italy has incorrectly implemented EU legislation on environmental liability, leading to insufficient protection for Italian citizens. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending Italy an additional reasoned opinion to ask it to adjust its national legislation accordingly. If Italy fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) establishes a legal framework for environmental liability based on the "polluter pays" principle, with the aim of preventing and remedying environmental damage. Natural and legal persons who operate or control activities listed in the Directive are strictly liable for the damage they cause to the environment through their activity. Such damage includes damage to water bodies, protected species or natural habitats, or soil.

While many provisions of the Directive have been transposed correctly, the Commission has particular concerns about the absence of strict liability, and the possibility open to operators of using financial compensation rather than remediation. For instance, Italian legislation lacks provisions which should oblige operators in a number of activities to remedy environmental damage they have generated even if they are not at fault.

The Commission identified these shortcomings in a letter of formal notice sent to Italy in February 2008, followed by a reasoned opinion on 23 November 2009. Italy subsequently notified amendments to its national legislation, but in the Commission’s view they do not solve the major breaches of the Directive. An additional reasoned opinion is therefore being sent.

Next Steps

Italy has two months to comply with the requirements of the Directive. If it fails to do so the Commission may refer the case to the European Court of Justice.


Directive 2004/35 on environmental liability aims at establishing a framework of environmental liability, based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, in order to prevent and remedy environmental damage. Two types of liability are involved: strict liability where operators are bound to remedy environmental damage they have caused even if they are not at fault (this concerns a number of dangerous activities listed in the directive, including the release of pollutants into water, sea or into the air, industrial and agricultural activities requiring permits under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, waste management operations, the production, storage, use and release of dangerous chemicals, and the transport, use and release of genetically modified organisms); and fault-based liability for other professional activities, where operators must be proved to be at fault before they are obliged to remedy environmental damage.

Further information

For current statistics on infringements in general, see:

See also:


Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)

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