Commission takes 9 member states to Court over environmental liability


The European Commission has decided to refer nine Member States to the European Court of Justice for failing to transpose the EU directive on liability for damage to the environment into their domestic law.

The deadline was 30 April 2007.

The nine Member States are Austria, Belgium (concerning the Brussels region only), Greece, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said - "The Environmental Liability Directive implements the polluter-pays principle and is one of the most significant new pieces of EU environmental law of the last few years. More than a year after the deadline, it is high time these nine Member States transposed it - not least to create the necessary legal security for operators carrying out activities falling under the directive and to avoid distortions in its implementation. This could arise, for instance, in the case of damage affecting more than one Member State."

The Environmental Liability Directive (ELD) establishes a legal framework for environmental liability based on the 'polluter-pays' principle, with the aim of preventing and remedying environmental damage. Natural and legal persons who operate or control activities listed in the directive are strictly liable for the damage they cause to the environment through their activity. The environmental damage covered is damage to protected species or natural habitats, water bodies or soil.

The Commission on 1 June 2007, sent a first written warning to 23 Member States that had not transposed the directive at that time. Fourteen of those have since done so.

Legal Process
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 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' (second and final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calls upon 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. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

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 - again by issuing a first written warning ('Letter of Formal Notice') and then a second and final written warning ('Reasoned Opinion'). The article then allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.

For further information -

- For rulings by the European Court of Justice - Click Here

- For more information on the Environmental Liability Directive - Click Here