Environmental Infractions to Cost UK, Germany Dear

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 22, 2000 (ENS) - The United Kingdom and Germany face heavy daily fines for breaching water quality laws at beaches and failing to follow environmental standards.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has already ruled against both countries on separate environmental issues. Now the European Commission, the executive arm of the 15 member European Union, is taking both countries to court a second time to impose fines.

Wallstrom

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
The Commission suggested daily fines for the UK of 106,800 Euros (US$98,000) and 237,600 Euros (US$218,000) for Germany.

If the court orders the fines it will be only the second time a European Union member nation has been punished financially for failing to comply with a judgment.

In July, Greece was ordered to pay a daily fine of 20,000 Euros (US$19,000) for failing to shut down a waste disposal plant spewing toxic trash into a ravine 200 meters (650 feet) from the Mediterranean Sea on the island of Crete.

"It is always unfortunate when the Commission is faced with the need to apply to the Court of Justice for a second time," said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström today.

"I hope that both member states will be in a position to comply with their obligations under these two important Directives as soon as possible to avoid judgment having to be given."

The UK is in trouble because it has not complied with the European Union's Bathing Waters Directive at two beaches on the Fylde Coast in northwest England. The Directive, the European Union's term for "law," is supposed to ensure regular water quality monitoring for fecal bacteria and pollutants.

beach

Donkeys on the beach at St. Anne's, one of the two UK beaches that do not pass tests under the European Union's Bathing Waters Directive. (Photo courtesy Fylde Borough Council)
The European Court first judged against the UK in 1993 when nine bathing areas around the Fylde Coast did not meet bathing water requirements. Following the judgment, the Commission agreed to let the UK implement a cleanup program, so the beaches would meet the standards by 1996.

The bathing areas still did not meet requirements in 1996 and 1997, and despite only two of the original nine beaches failing this year, the Commission pressed ahead for a fine that will cost the UK for every day of non-compliance.

Earlier this month, the UK announced its best ever bathing water quality results. The results for England in 2000 showed that more than 95 percent of coastal bathing waters passed the Bathing Water Directive's main tests - up from 90 percent last year.

A statement by the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions, which released the figures, singled out the Fylde coast for praise because all three Blackpool beaches passed the quality tests together for the first time. Blackpool is the UK's most visited seaside resort.

But seven years after the problem arose, the resorts of Bispham and St Anne's North still do not pass the Bathing Water Directive's tests.

The case against Germany is more complex and, compared to the UK's punishment, more costly.

tower

All three of Blackpool's beaches passed bathing water quality tests for the first time this year. The resort is the UK and Europe's busiest. (Photo courtesy Virtual Blackpool)
Germany has failed to comply with its obligations under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive on several grounds.

The Directive is one of the European Union's principal pieces of environmental legislation and requires member states to provide an environmental impact assessment of a wide range of projects before they are authorized. This allows potential environmental impacts to be avoided or mitigated.

The Directive is divided into Annex I, for which all projects require an assessment, and Annex II, which leaves assessment to the member country's discretion.

In 1998, the European Court ruled against Germany because the country's legislation still excludes whole classes of Annex II projects from assessment requirements. The necessary national legislation should have been in place by July 1988.

Although Germany has been working on filling the gap, the necessary legislation has yet to be adopted and sent to the Commission. Like the UK, Germany's fine will be levied for every day of non-compliance after the court issues its second judgment.