EU lawmakers call for stricter green rulebook


The European Parliament's environment committee has called on the European Commission to distribute lists of member states that fail to properly implement EU legislation on waste, water and nature protection, arguing that the situation had become "absurd".

The whole debate on implementing the EU's environmental rulebook is becoming "increasingly absurd," said MEP Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (Germany, S&D) on Tuesday (23 February).

It is a "sobering fact" that member states are trying at all costs to avoid implementing the legislation they themselves adopt, she argued.

During an exchange of views with the Commission on the implementation of EU green laws, MEPs on the Parliament's environment committee said they have the right to know who is failing to transpose the various EU laws and suggested that the EU executive should hand out country lists on the matter. Some even suggested establishing an early-warning system to identify those who are not on track.

In a resolution adopted earlier this month, the Parliament called on the Commission to provide the House with more and quicker information on all infringement procedures if requested.

Pia Bucella, director of legal affairs at the Commission's environment directorate-general, said the EU executive is "bound by the existing rules on what we can say and transmit, what access-to-documents is allowing us […] and we obey the rules".

She also said the Commission tries to issue press releases on the "big infringements" at every stage of the procedure, which gives its allegations in different cases "publicity".

Bucella also said various infringement scoreboards are found in the Commission's annual reports and that the environment department publishes every year its annual statistics on infringements. The latter show how quickly or slowly the EU executive is moving with different infringements.

Review of legislation that is not implemented

MEPs also pointed out that late implementation in the member states does not seem to affect the Commission's agenda on reviewing legislation.

For example, while statistics show that a number of countries have done next to nothing to implement the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), the Commission has already tabled a recast version.

Speeding up implementation

In its November 2008 communication on implementing European environmental law, the Commission stressed the need to speed up handling of infringements. Janez Poto?nik, the EU's new environment commissioner, recently said that implementation of existing legislation would be one of the main priorities of his five-year term.

In a feasibility study published on 1 February, the European Commission explored the possibility of setting up a specific EU body to carry out inspections in member states to enforce compliance of national waste laws with EU legislation (EURACTIV 01/02/10).

The Lisbon Treaty also allows for quicker and easier court judgements and fining of member states than before, Bucella said.

The fact that the environment directorate-general was split into two separate directorates – climate action and environment – for the Barroso II Commission will also allow DG Environment "to pay even more attention than we did in the past to implementation in some key sectors" such as waste, water, air quality and nature protection, she added.

Making the best out of EU 'enforcement machinery'

"It is not always possible to achieve good implementation status merely through encouraging member states to do their work. Therefore we need to make the best out of our enforcement machinery," Bucella said.

She said the EU executive had identified four priority areas on which it would improve enforcement. These include lack of transposition, non-respect of European Court of Justice rulings, systemic breaches of EU law, such as tolerating illegal landfills and multiple failures to treat urban waste water, and breaches of infrastructure, such as failure to conduct proper environmental impact assessments.

Implementation and transposition plans

To bridge the gap between adoption of legislation and its implementation, the Commission has developed "implementation action plans," which should help member states "from day one when the legislation is adopted," Bucella said. The EU executive is also establishing transposition plans with member states to help check how far they have come and where there are gaps to be foreseen.

She acknowledged that the Commission has problems checking that the transposition measures are in line with EU legislation, as the measures are submitted by regions and checking them takes time.

One example of EU green law is the bloc's waste legislation, which comprises around 60 regulations, directives and decisions. In many member states, implementation and enforcement of the legislation fall significantly short of legal obligations.

According to 2008 figures, there are 140 waste-related infringement procedures pending against member states, representing 19% of all environmental infringement cases.

One of the main waste issues is member states' tolerance of illegal landfills.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has acknowledged that it does not have enough resources to properly enforce implementation and that infringements "have little effect," as reaching a court decision can take up to six years in some cases (EURACTIV 17/07/09).


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