Nieuwsbericht | 02-07-2006
Brussels, 3 July 2006
The European Commission has initiated infringement procedures against 10 Member States over violations of a key EU law on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of projects. This directive aims to ensure that the environmental effects of a wide range of infrastructural, industrial, mineral extraction and other projects are properly examined before any works are undertaken. The law also gives important participation rights to citizens. The Commission has identified gaps and deficiencies in the ten Member States' laws and has therefore decided to send first written warnings to ensure that they comply with all the provisions of the Directive.
Enviroment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "EU citizens and the European Parliament regularly express concerns about how environmental impact assessment is carried out. Improving the national and regional legislation on this will reduce the potential for grievances to arise and protect Europe's environment more effectively. "
The EIA Directive  requires Member States to carry out environmental impact assessments of certain public and private projects, before they are authorised, where it is believed that the projects are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. The objective is to identify the environmental impacts and assess whether prevention or mitigation is appropriate. The public must be consulted and its comments taken into account when a decision is taken on whether to authorise the project.
For some projects, such as motorway construction, EIAs are obligatory while for others, for example urban development projects, Member States must operate a screening system to determine which ones require assessment. They can apply thresholds or criteria, carry out case-by-case examination or use a combination of these screening instruments, the aim being to ensure that all environmentally significant projects are assessed.
The Directive was adopted in 1985 and strengthened by a revision in 1997. Member States were required to adopt the necessary national legislation to take account of this amendment by March 1999. A further amendment was adopted in 2003 giving citizens rights to seek judicial redress in relation to public participation.
Having evaluated the national legislation implementing the revised Directive in each Member State, the Commission has identified a number of areas where Member States fail to comply fully. The Commission has therefore sent first warning letters to the following Member States: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Poland.
Different grounds for non-compliance were identified in each Member State. Common problems include not requiring certain project categories to undergo EIAs and a failure to make adequate provision for screening projects to see if an EIA is needed. In particular, smaller projects were not adequately addressed.
The main shortcomings in each Member State are as follows:
The Austrian legislation fails to properly reflect the range of criteria set in the Directive for determining whether a project should be made subject to an EIA. For example, there is no reference to landscapes of historical, cultural or archaeological value.
There are shortcomings in legislation at the federal level and at the level of the three regions. There is an absence of any provision for EIA for many project categories in Wallonia and Brussels.
For many categories of projects, the provisions for determining whether an EIA should be carried out are too weak. Recommendations may be made that an EIA should be undertaken but these do not have to be followed. There is also too sweeping an exemption for projects serving national defence purposes.
Czech EIA rules unduly restrict the public's right to go to court to uphold their entitlement to participate in EIA procedures.
The German legislation at the Federal level in some cases operate with minimum thresholds for the size of projects (below which not even a case-by-case assessment is carried out). These thresholds seem too high for a number of project categories.l The Bavarian legislation to a large extent completely excludes case-by-case assessments and only operates with thresholds. This systematically excludes that the specific nature and location of a project are taken into consideration when assessing its potential environmental effects.
Greek EIA legislation omits provision for a number of project categories, such as the conversion of uncultivated land and semi-natural areas to intensive agriculture and certain mineral extraction installations. The legislation is also insufficient in terms of the information that a developer must provide.
Luxembourg has not made provision for the EIA of a number of project categories, notably major transport infrastructure.
Maltese legislation provides for case-by-case decisions on whether an EIA is needed. However, it fails to formally ensure that the Directive's criteria are used.
The Dutch legislation does not adequately provide for EIA for smaller projects - relying on size criteria which do not take account of all the criteria set down in the Directive.
The Polish EIA legislation over-relies on size criteria for certain project categories. For projects that are subject to a two-stage authorisation process, there is provision for EIA at the first stage but not at the second. This means that likely effects which only become clear later are not assessed. There is also inadequate provision for EIA of projects with transboundary effects.
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" (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, usually two months.
If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the 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. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned. More information about EU nature protection policies is available at:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/nature/home.htm For current statistics on infringements in general see:
 Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, as amended by Directive 97/11/EC, and by Directive 2003/35/EC providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 96/61/EC