Brussels, 26 July 2001
Waste : Commission takes legal action against Italy, United Kingdom, Ireland and Austria
The European Commission has decided to take Italy to the Court of Justice for failing to correctly transpose the Waste Framework Directive into national law. The Commission also decided to send the United Kingdom, Ireland and Austria each a Reasoned Opinion (second warning letter) for failing to comply with the Directive. Commenting on the decision, the Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström, said: "It is disappointing that so many Member States are still failing to meet their commitments under this vital Directive. In particular, I hope that illegal landfills will soon be a thing of the past."
The Waste Framework Directive(1) establishes a Community wide definition of waste. Linked to this is the so-called European Waste Catalogue(2), which lists wastes according to different categories. On the basis of this common definition, the Waste Framework Directive establishes the basic obligations of Member States when dealing with waste and when issuing permits for disposal and recovery operations, inspections and transport controls.
The decision to take Italy to the Court of Justice concerns its failure to correctly transpose the Waste Framework Directive. The Directive allows for exemptions from the permitting obligations, but such exemptions can only be granted under certain conditions. The Commission believes that the exemptions provided for by Italian law fail to comply with these conditions. Furthermore, Italian legislation fails to correctly apply in all cases the European Waste Catalogue Codes when identifying different wastes. These matters were raised with the Italian authorities in a Reasoned Opinion (second written warning) in April 2001. The Italian authorities failed to reply to this, so it has been to refer the matter to the Court.
The United Kingdom
The decision to send a Reasoned Opinion to the United Kingdom concerns its failure to correctly transpose various articles of the Waste Framework Directive into national law. The issues concerned include the failure to correctly transpose various definitions outlined in the Directive.
These include: the waste definition itself, the fact that United Kingdom legislation allows for exemptions from the scope of the Directive's controls that exceed those permitted under the Directive and the failure to fully transpose provisions on transport controls for Gibraltar and Northern Ireland.
The Commission decided to send Austria a Reasoned Opinion for its failure to correctly transpose the definitions of "recovery" and "disposal" into national law. The Commission is also of the opinion that Austria has failed to transpose correctly the obligation under the Waste Framework Directive to require periodic inspections of waste facilities.
The Reasoned Opinion that will be sent to Ireland concerns failures to properly control unauthorised private and local authority waste waste storage and disposal operations, and to properly regulate waste collection. Complaints have shown that unauthorised private waste operations have been carried out in several parts of the country, such as Greenore, County Louth, the Poolbeg Peninsula, Dublin, wetlands in County Waterford and Fermoy, County Cork. Many local authority landfills also continue to operate without licence, and the licensing process operated by Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency does not properly safeguard areas of special interest, such as an internationally important wetland at the major seaside resort of Tramore, County Waterford. The Commission is of the opinion that Ireland has failed to ensure the safe disposal and prohibition of the uncontrolled disposal of waste, to provide an integrated and adequate network of disposal installations, to require adequate permits and authorisations and to hold inspections or require waste records to be kept in relation to unauthorised waste storage and disposal.
As guardian of the EC Treaty, the Commission must make sure that the legal requirements of the Treaty and legislation adopted under the Treaty are respected by Member States. The procedures being followed in the cases against the United Kingdom, Austria, Spain, Ireland and the bad transposition case against Italy all relate to Article 226 of the Treaty, which gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.
If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of Community law which warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.
In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (or second written warning) to the Member State, clearly and definitively setting out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of Community law and calling on the Member State to comply within a specified period (normally two months).
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.
Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The procedure being followed in the case against Italy for its failure to ensure compliance with the judgement of the Court in Case C-365/97 relates to Article 228 of the Treaty. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
(1) Council Directive 75/442/EEC on waste as amended by Directive 91/156/EEC.
(2) Commission Decision 94/3/EC.