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Brussels, 14 July 1999

Urban waste water treatment: Commission acts against Greece and Germany

The European Commission has decided to make an application to the European Court of Justice against Greece for non-respect of the European Union (EU) Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. At the same time, it decided to notify Reasoned Opinions to Germany and Greece for failing to give effect in their national legislation to a 1998 Directive which makes a technical amendment to the original Directive.

Untreated or inadequately treated urban waste water is one of the chief forms of water pollution. The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste water treatment) has a key role to play in efforts to improve EU water quality by requiring that cities, towns and other population centres meet minimum waste water collection and treatment standards by deadlines stipulated in the Directive (these deadlines expire at the end of 1998, 2000 and 2005 depending on the sensitivity of the receiving water and size of the population centre). The necessary national legislation was due at the end of June 1993.

As regards this Directive, in March 1996, Greece was condemned by the European Court of Justice for not adopting legislation. In response to this judgement, Greece adopted and transmitted new legislation to the Commission in 1997. However, having examined it, the Commission found it unsatisfactory. In particular, by linking the necessity for action solely to the volume of domestic waste water needing treatment (while the Directive refers to other categories of water), the Greek legislation has the effect of unjustifiably narrowing the circumstances in which upgraded infrastructure is required. Greece has also failed to identify sensitive waters, in the catchments of which urban waste water must be subject to more stringent treatment than secondary treatment (which is the basic level required under the Directive). The Commission therefore launched a new procedure under Article 226 (ex-article 169) of the Treaty against Greece. While improved legislation has been promised by the Greek authorities, nothing has to date been forthcoming.

The 1998 Commission Directive (Commission Directive 98/15/EC amending Council Directive 91/271/EEC with respect to certain requirements established in Annex I thereof) clarifies requirements for urban waste water discharges to sensitive areas which are subject to eutrophication (i.e. over-enrichment by nutrients). The deadline for national legislation was the end of September 1998. Germany and Greece have failed to meet this deadline. Hence the decisions to notify Reasoned Opinions to them.

The above decisions reflect the Commission's commitment to ensuring that Member State implementing legislation is fully in conformity with this key Directive and its amendment.

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