EU accuses nations of failing environment, citizens


The European Union’s head office Thursday accused national governments of letting their citizens down by failing to properly implement EU environment laws. It named France, Italy and Ireland as the worst offenders.

A report by the European Commission said there were “serious shortcomings” in the implementation of legislation dealing with clean air and water, waste disposal, nature protection and other environmental issues.

“This deprives citizens of the high level of environmental protection that they expect,” the commission said in a statement.

Separately, the EU’s environment agency issued a dire warning Wednesday that nations had to move faster to tackle global warming or risk deadly floods, heat waves and soaring temperatures that could melt three-quarters of the Alpine glaciers by 2050.

According to the report released Thursday, environmental cases represented a third of all legal complaints by the commission against national governments.

France topped the list of offenders, followed by Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. Nordic nations Denmark, Sweden and Finland had the best records, followed by Portugal and Austria.

Under EU rules the commission can take legal action at the EU’s high court against governments that fail to implement European directives, which only become law after approval by EU national governments.

Although the European Court of Justice can levy hefty fines on governments, the complex legal process can take decades.

One ongoing legal battle between France and the EU’s head office dates back to 1976, over Paris’ non-implementation of rules to protect water supplies from dumped of pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants.

In its statement, the commission said it preferred working directly with national capitals to help and persuade them to apply the rules.

Recent examples among hundreds of cases being pursued by the commission include one against Greece for failure to ensure the withdrawal of harmful chemicals used in electrical equipment; against Luxembourg for not applying laws obliging industrial companies handling hazardous materials to draw up emergency plans; against France for not setting up enough reserves for endangered animal or plant species.

The 10 nations that joined the EU on May 1 were not included in the report, which dealt with data up to the end of last year.