The European Parliament yesterday (3 February) urged the European Commission to strictly implement a Court of Justice ruling on the waste crisis in Campania, saying that Italy must comply with EU rules before funds can be released.
Structural funds currently withheld by the European Commission should be freed only once a regional strategy to solve the crisis is consistent with EU provisions, say MEPs.
They also call on regional authorities to present "a credible waste management plan".
The Commission is currently analysing draft proposals handed in by Italy and will decide on a further course of action by the end of February.
The waste management crisis in southern Italy has been an ongoing issue for almost two decades. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on the matter in March 2010.
Yesterday's resolution was put forward jointly by the liberals (ALDE), the leftists (GUE/NGL), the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the Greens/European Free Alliance groups.
Most opposition to the resolution came from the centre-right group of the European People's Party (EPP), but the text was adopted with 374 votes against 208.
Italian MEPs Crescenzio Rivellini and Erminia Mazzoni (EPP) made an intervention and tabled an oral amendment: just one of a total of 17 amendments proposed by the EPP, none of which went through.
Rivellini also blamed the Italian left for the waste crisis, as its last climax in 2007 occurred under socialist rule.
At previous discussions of this issue, Italian S&D members had been worried about such accusations, which were first made by Italy's Popolo della Libertà party. The party is currently in government and will therefore have to deal with the crisis.
Popolo della Libertà's chairman is Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister and media tycoon. Fears of getting bad press meant it was difficult to come to an agreement between Italian S&D members and the other delegations.
Nonetheless, the resolution makes several major demands. It calls upon the Commission to follow up on the ECJ ruling and to monitor the situation through "systematic inspections". Italy ought to adopt a waste management plan and put in place the necessary infrastructure to move towards waste prevention and recycling.
It advises against continuing the military supervision of landfills, which has alienated the public and "facilitated […] the increased involvement of organised crime" in the waste management process.
The European Parliament argued that financial penalties could be used if the Italian government does not comply with EU rules and misses the deadline set by the Commission.
MEPs also called for strict monitoring to avoid to open landfills in protected areas, like those built within the Vesuvius National Park. The resolution demands that the Commission should "amend EU waste legislation so as to categorically prohibit landfills in Natura 2000 sites".
"The EU must immediately ban landfills in national parks and nature protected areas," said Dutch Socialists & Democrats (S&D) MEP Judith Merkies. "Commissioner Janez Poto?nik stated that the existing EU legislation does not prohibit landfills in natural parks and UNESCO heritage areas."
"We urge the European Commission to immediately repair this serious gap and to introduce a total ban of landfills in Natura 2000 and UNESCO protected areas. Nature must be preserved, enjoyed and not landfilled," said Merkies.
Italian S&D MEP Andrea Cozzolino said: "The solution of the crisis is now in the hands of the Italian authorities."
"The European Parliament is expecting full transparency on the Campania's waste management plan and an immediate implementation of that. This will contribute to get out of the current waste emergency and to unlock the EU funds currently frozen following the Court ruling of last year," Cozzolino said.
Italian MEP Crescenzio Rivellini (European People's Party) sent EurActiv the following statement: "I do think that it is correct to criticise the waste emergency and to punish the people who are responsible for the disaster."
According to him, however, the culprits are on the political left as they were in power in 2007. He claimed that imposing financial penalties on the country at large was to penalise all citizens.
He continued: "I truly hope that the resolution could be a warning and lead to the implementation of a new control system for penalising people who are guilty."
Rivellini also expressed hope that the citizens of Campania will soon benefit from a safe waste management system.
Waste crises are not new to Campania, where waste disposal has for a long time been a lucrative business controlled largely by the 'Camorra' mafia. In summer 2007, severe garbage collection problems in the region made international headlines and prompted the Commission to open an infringement procedure (EurActiv 27/06/07).
Since then, many local landfill sites have been declared "sites of strategic interest" and put under military control, and the public has been denied access to them.
A fact-finding mission to Campania by the European Parliament's Petitions Committee in April 2010 resulted in a report that found that local petitioners were disenchanted with the handling of the crisis by the Italian authorities. In some cases even the local mayor had been refused access to the landfill sites.
The report also found a landfill at Terzigno situated in a National Park and a UNESCO Heritage site and a second landfill planned at the Vitiello site within the same National Park and an enormous backlog of so-calles Ecobales, or waste-derived fuel, as well as evidence of illegal dumping of unidentified waste.
- End Feb. 2011: Commissioner Poto?nik to announce further course of action regarding implementation of waste management plan in Campania.