Environmental Failings Land Greece in Court Again

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 19, 2001 (ENS) - Greece is being taken to the European Court of Justice a second and third time for failing to protect its environment. Last week it began paying the first fine ever imposed by the European Union on one of its members for failing to meet waste regulations at a landfill site.

According to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, Greece has failed to respect a law protecting wild birds and has not implemented pollution rules.


The lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) is in decline in Greece and on the world's threatened species list. (Photo by B. Hallman, courtesy Hellenic Ornithological Society)
Several other countries have been targeted in today's announcement, which concerns the European Union's Wild Birds Directive and its Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).

Both Greece and Belgium failed to respect provisions of the Wild Birds Directive, said the Commission, which considers that Greek hunting legislation infringes the obligation to protect migratory wild birds during their return to breeding grounds.

Keeping eggs of rare wild bird species is not prohibited in Belgium as it should be according to the Directive, said the Commission, explaining the case against Belgium.

"The Wild Birds Directive represents a common framework for conserving the Community's wild bird species, which are a shared heritage and responsibility," said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström.

"These decisions underline the importance the Commission attaches to respect for these important rules," added Wallström.

Greek legislation allows the hunting season to extend to February 28, which overlaps the protected period for 17 out of 23 migratory wild bird species: Birds such as the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni), whose numbers are threatened because of airgun wielding youngsters killing them for fun, according to the Hellenic Ornithological Society.

Making its decision against Greece, the European Commission stressed that the Wild Birds Directive recognizes hunting as a legitimate, and even positive activity, when it comes to bird conservation.


European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
But, the Commission added, "The controls on hunting are intended to help ensure a balance between the activity and the long-term interest of maintaining healthy and viable populations of huntable species."

"This concern for balance explains the Directive's requirement that the hunting season should not include the periods of greatest vulnerability - return migration, reproduction and dependence of young birds.

"Unfortunately, Greek rules do not respect these requirements."

Greece and Belgium were among seven countries singled out by the European Commission today for not implementing the Directive on IPPC. Greece, the United Kingdom, Spain and Finland have been referred to the European Court of Justice while Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany have been two months to implement the pollution directive or face the same fate.

"I urge member states who are late with their national laws to make every effort to complete the necessary legislative work as soon as possible," said Wallström. "The IPPC Directive is a significant advance in environmental regulation of polluting industrial activities."

The IPPC Directive is one of the European Union's major pieces of environmental legislation. It governs many potentially polluting industrial activities, including energy industries, production and processing of metals, mineral and chemical industries, waste management facilities and certain agri-food facilities.

The legislation tries to prevent or reduce pollution of air, water and land through a comprehensive permitting system. Under old rules, individual industries and types of pollution were regulated separately.

Each of the European Union's 15 member nations was supposed to have incorporated the IPPC into their national legislation by November 1999.


Local residents object to the waste dump that pollutes the Mediterranean Sea near the Kouroupitos River. They want to preserve their pristine beachs, such as this one, Prevelis Beach, also in the Chania prefecture.. (Photo courtesy http://www.chania-info.com/)
The European Commission reports that while the other offending countries have only partially adopted IPPC's new rules, it is unaware of Greece adopting any of them.

Last month, Greece paid the first installment of a fine levied by the European Court of Justice totalling 20,000 Euros (US$19,056) a day. The fine was imposed when the court ruled that Greece had not heeded an earlier judgement ordering it to comply with European Union waste regulations at a landfill site in Crete.

The legal case against Greece centered on an unregulated rubbish dump in a ravine close to the mouth of Kouroupitos River, 200 meters (656 feet) from the sea in the district of Chania, on the Greek island of Crete. The fine will continue until the country complies with waste regulations.