The Court of Justice of the EU ruled in 2004 that Greece was violating EU law by not adequately collecting and treating waste water discharged into the Gulf of Elefsina (Judgement No C-119/02 of 24 June 2004). Eleven years later, Greece has not managed to adequately address this problem.
The lack of adequate treatment systems in the area of Thriasio Pedio poses risks to human health, to inland waters and the marine environment. The Commission is asking the Court of Justice of the EU to impose a lump sum from the date of the first judgment until the Member State has rectified the infringement or in the absence of compliance until the date of the second judgment, based on a daily amount multiplied by the number of days the infringement persists, leading, up to now, to a sum of EUR 15 943 620. The Commission is also proposing a daily fine of EUR 34 974, which would be paid from the date of the Court ruling until Greece fully complies with EU law. These penalties, proposed by the Commission under the Lisbon Treaty, take into account the seriousness of the infringement, its duration, and the deterrent effect reflecting the ability to pay of the Member State. The final decision on the penalties rests with the Court.
Despite some progress, only 28 % of the urban waste water is collected and treated before being discharged into the Gulf of Elefsina. The collection rate has almost not improved since July 2012 when the waste water treatment facility started operating. In view of this continued infringement, and in the absence of any indication as to when this will come to an end, the Commission has decided to refer the case back to the Court of Justice of the EU.
The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to public health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication. Proper waste water treatment is also an important factor in ensuring a thriving tourist industry, which is a key sector for the Greek economy.
Under the Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC), towns and cities of more than 10 000 population equivalent which discharge urban waste waters into 'sensitive areas' designated by the respective Member State, were required to have systems for collecting and treating their waste water in place since 1998. Member States must ensure that water entering collection systems undergoes treatment removing nutrients (known as tertiary treatment) before they are discharged into environmentally sensitive areas.
In a similar case, on 15 October 2015, the Court condemned Greece to pay penalties for failing in its obligation to comply with a 2007 judgment concerning the treatment of urban waste water (non-compliance in 23 agglomerations). In that case, the Court decided that Greece should pay a fixed sum of EUR 10 million and a sliding-scale periodic fine of EUR 20 000 per day.
For More information
- On the key decisions in the November 2015 infringements' package, see MEMO/15/6006.
- General information on infringements proceedings in the policy area of Environment.
- On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12.
- Information on the infringement procedures.