Richard North, 13/01/2005  

According to the ever-faithful – and reliable – Reuters news agency, Britain is facing legal action from the EU commission for failing to fully comply with rules that require biological testing of urban sewage before it is released into rivers and bodies of water.

This is the Urban Waste Water Directive, which requires that waste water from areas with populations of more than 15,000 be subject to secondary-level or biological testing before discharge. Treatment plant should also have been up and running by December 2000, which was not done for 14 areas in the UK, 10 of them in Northern Ireland, the Commission claims.

Now the commission has announced that it has sent a final written warning to Britain - the last step before going to the ECJ – instructing it to implement the law.

So far so good but then we have to listen to a lecture from Greek Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, who declared: "By not fully complying with this EU law, the UK is not delivering the level of protection against pollution from waste water that it signed up to and that British citizens deserve."

Call me Xenophobic if you like, but it is a bit rich taking sanctimonious denunciations like that from a Greek. His country has one of the worse, and consistently worst, environment records in the EU.

One of the most notorious examples came in August 2000, when Greece was ordered by the ECJ to pay a daily fine of €20,000 for failing to shut down a waste disposal plant. It had been spewing toxic waste into a ravine 200 yards from the Mediterranean Sea on the island of Crete for thirteen years, and the Greek government had failed to comply with a judgement since 1992.

That year, the Greek government had already been referred to the ECJ for failure to comply with the Nitrates Directive, having not adopted codes of good agricultural practices and action programme required by the Directive. In addition, their monitoring programme for fresh waters was considered insufficient.

The commission also took action against Greece for failure to implement EU legislation on CO2, air quality and airborne emissions and for not providing data for the year 2000 on emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases and the removal of CO2 by sinks, plus various other infringements.

And the ECJ also ruled against Greece on another issue that year, its failure to adopt and communicate pollution-reduction programmes for 99 dangerous substances under the Dangerous Substances in Water Directive. The Greeks then prepared a "comprehensive national pollution-reduction programme" for the substances concerned, but did not enact any legislation.

In 2003, Greece was cited by the commission as one of the worst offenders in its annual survey on the implementation and enforcement of EU environmental law and, by January 2004 it was again incurring the wrath of the commission for failing to supply reports on implementation of EU law on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC).

The then environment commissioner, Margot Wallström offered her version of the sanctimonious lecture, saying: "It is important that member states fulfil their reporting commitments in relation to this directive, which is crucial for the protection of the environment and for public health in the union."

Greece clearly did not listen for, shortly afterwards, the commission was taking legal action against her for non-compliance with EU laws on water quality. Margot Wallström was moved to: "urge member states to improve their compliance with EU water legislation. This will help ensure the necessary safeguards for the environment and human health."

Not long after that, Greece was yet again referred to the ECJ, this time for failing to properly protect the lagoon of Messolonghi-Aitolikon, in the Prefecture of Aitoloakarnania. This is a wetland that is internationally recognised as an important habitat for wild birds.

Later that same year, the Commission also sent Greece a final written warning for failing to properly protect another internationally recognised wetland, Lake Koronia, in the Prefecture of Thessaloniki. The lake was affected by heavy water abstraction for irrigation purposes and by discharges of nutrients, heavy metals and other pollutants from industries in the surrounding area.

The commission accused Greece of failing to establish an appropriate legal protection framework and of failing to take adequate measures to avoid the degradation of the lake.

Yet, despite that record, we now have Greeks bearing down on sh*t. We don't need it.

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