AUGUST 2009

European Commission sends Italy final warning over illegal waste landfills

The European Commission (EU) is pursuing legal action against Italy over breaches of EU environmental law on waste and waste water treatment. In the first case, Italy has been sent a final written warning that it could face fines unless it moves rapidly to close and clean up thousands of illegal and uncontrolled waste disposal sites across the country. Italy was condemned by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2007 over the sites but has yet to take adequate measures to comply with the ruling. The second case relates to a failure to comply with obligations for the treatment of waste water. Some 500 towns and cities are listed as not having waste water treatment up to EU standards.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, “Uncontrolled disposal of waste and untreated urban waste water present serious hazards, which is one of the reasons rules have been adopted by the EU to ensure the highest levels of protection for citizens and the environment. I urge the Italian authorities to take swift action to remedy the situation and fully implement EU environmental law.”

In April 2007 Italy was condemned by the ECJ for a general and persistent failure to comply with its obligations under EU waste laws 1 due to the existence of thousands of illegal and uncontrolled waste tips.

The Commission sent Italy a first warning letter under Article 228 in February 2008. Article 228 applies when a Member State has failed to comply fully with an ECJ judgement. It gives the Commission the power, after issuing two warnings, to take the Member State to the Court a second time and to ask for fines to be imposed.

The information sent by the Italian authorities in response to the first warning letter indicates that the problem persists on a large scale and affects almost the whole national territory. While the Italian authorities have taken certain measures, such as screening some of the sites, the Commission concludes that, two years after the judgment of the Court, these are not sufficient to address the situation and resolve the systemic problem in the long term.

The Commission is sending a final written warning to Italy under Article 228.

This case is part of a wider approach to tackle systemic problems of illegal and uncontrolled waste disposal in Member States.

The Commission is sending a first written warning to Italy for failing to comply with EU legislation designed to protect human health and the environment against pollution from waste water. According to the 1991 Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 2, towns and cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants that discharge water into environmentally sensitive areas should have been equipped with a collection and treatment system meeting the most stringent quality standards (known as tertiary treatment) by the end of 1998.

Following an evaluation of information provided by Italy, the Commission considers that over 500 towns and cities do not comply with the directive. Italy has two months to respond. The Commission will then decide whether to issue a final written warning.

Article 226 of the Treaty 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 EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a ‘Letter of Formal Notice’ (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations within a specified period, usually two months.