Brussels, 26 June 1997
Commission decides to end legal action against Germany and Italy for non-respect of environmental directives
The European Commission has decided not to pursue further legal action against Germany and Italy for non-respect of certain environmental directives in the fields of bird protection, groundwater, and waste. In January 1997 the Commission had proposed financial penalties under Article 171 of the Treaty against Germany and Italy for non-compliance with previous judgments of the Court of Justice. The present decision follows the notification by Germany and Italy of measures to comply with the directives in question. Since the two Member States have now fulfilled their obligations under the relevant EU environmental legislation, the Commission has decided to end the infringement procedures.
Before the new German and Italian measures were notified, the Commission had decided to make applications to the European Court of Justice for the second time, as Germany and Italy had failed to comply with previous judgments of the Court. On 29 January 1997 the Commission decided the daily penalties which it would propose to the Court: Germany: bird protection ECU 26,400, groundwater ECU 264,000; Italy: waste ECU 123,900 (see IP/97/63).
The Commission's action in these cases was based on Article 171 of the Treaty establishing the European Community. This article gives the Commission power to act against a Member State which does not comply with a previous judgment of the European Court of Justice. Following changes inserted by the Treaty on European Union ("the Maastricht Treaty"), the article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned (see IP/97/5rev).
Commenting on these decisions, Commissioner for the Environment, Ritt Bjerregaard, said: "When the European Commission on 29 January 1997 for the first time decided to seek financial penalties against non-compliance with European Court judgements the environment was the first policy area chosen. These proposed penalties have already in three out of five cases had a clear and positive effect. I'm extremely pleased that this instrument based on article 171 of the Treaty has demonstrated its efficiency. I strongly believe that there are two lessons to be learned. One for the Member States: Environmental legislation must be applied fully - or else. And one for the Commission: There is no reason why the Commission should not increase the use of financial penalties under article 171 - they seem to work extremely well".
Details on the cases and on the new German and Italian measures are as follows:
Of the judgments against Germany, the earliest dates from 1990 and concerns a failure to fully implement a Community directive dealing with the protection of wild birds (Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds) OJ L 103, 25.04.1979. The outstanding problem related to the legislation of Saarland, which failed to ensure the degree of wild bird protection required by the Directive. In April 1997, Germany notified new legislation from Saarland (adopted in March 1997) addressing the previous shortcomings.
The next judgment against Germany dates from 1991 and concerns a failure to fully implement a Community directive aimed at safeguarding the quality of groundwater (Council Directive 80/68/EEC on the protection of groundwater against pollution caused by certain dangerous substances) OJ L 20, 26.01.1980. In particular, the German legislation was less strict than the Directive in terms of prohibiting, investigating and authorising discharges of dangerous substances. In April 1997, Germany notified the necessary new legislation (Grundwasserverordnung), which was adopted and brought into force in March 1997.
As for Italy, the relevant judgment dates from 1991 and concerns a failure to implement Community waste legislation in the region of Campania. In particular, this region still lacked a proper waste management plan as required by a Community framework directive on waste (Council Directive 75/442/EEC on waste) OJ L 194, 25.07.1975. In early 1997, Italy communicated a waste management plan for Campania. The Commission has examined this and is satisfied that it achieves compliance with the Directive and the Court judgment.
In the case of Germany, it should be noted that the Commission is still pursuing another Article 171 application to the Court. This relates to Germany's non-compliance with a 1991 Court judgment concerning a failure to fully implement two Community directives dealing with the quality of surface water used for the abstraction of drinking water (Council Directive 75/440/EEC concerning the quality required of surface water intended for the abstraction of drinking water in the Member States OJ L 194, 25.07.1975 and Council Directive 79/869/EEC concerning the methods of measurement and frequencies of sampling and analysis of surface water intended for the abstraction of drinking water in the Member States OJ L 271, 29.10,1979). In particular, the former directive was not transposed in full into German law. In addition, Germany failed to draw up a systematic plan of action to improve water quality, and failed to provide certain required information.