Brussels, 20 November 2013
Environment: European Commission takes Greece back to Court for waste water
The European Commission is referring Greece back to the European Court of Justice for poor treatment of urban waste water. The Court previously ruled in October 2007 that Greece was failing in its obligation to treat and dispose of urban waste water in an adequate manner, with 23 agglomerations across the country lacking the necessary collection and treatment systems. Six years after the Court's ruling, six agglomerations are still failing to comply with EU standards. The Commission is therefore asking the Court to impose fines, suggesting a lump sum of €11 514 081 and a daily penalty payment of €47 462 until the obligations are fulfilled.
Progress has been made since the 2007 Court ruling, and 17 of the previously non-compliant agglomerations have been upgraded. But much remains to be done in the remaining six. Construction works in three agglomerations in eastern Attica, which are co-financed from the EU budget, will not be complete before April 2014 (in Markopoulo), late 2015 (Koropi) and mid-2017 (N. Makri). Construction has begun for a facility in Lefkimmi, Corfu, but two other Attica agglomerations (Artemida and Rafina) have not yet agreed on a location where a facility should be built. Under EU legislation, the last deadline for completing such works was 2005.
The lack of treatment in these agglomerations means that the health of residents is being put at risk, as untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. Untreated waste water also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes off other life. Proper waste water treatment is recognised as an important factor in ensuring a thriving tourist industry, a key sector for the Greek economy.
While fully aware of the difficult situation currently facing Greece, the Commission believes that not making this investment now would ultimately entail even higher costs to Greece in the future. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore taking Greece back to the EU Court of Justice and asking for fines.
Towns and cities across the European Union are required to collect and treat their urban waste water under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.
The main type of waste water treatment envisaged by the Directive is biological or 'secondary' treatment. However, where agglomerations of over 10,000 inhabitants discharge into water bodies designated as sensitive, more stringent treatment is also needed. Such treatment was required to be in place by 31 December 1998. For agglomerations of more than 15,000 inhabitants not discharging into sensitive areas, the deadline for secondary treatment infrastructure was 31 December 2000. In smaller agglomerations the deadline for compliance was 31 December 2005.
For more information:
On the November infringement package decisions, see MEMO/13/1005
On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12
For more information on infringement procedures:
For current statistics on infringements in general: