(L.22) Commission pursues infringement proceedings against eight Member States for non-compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment Directive - 24 January 2003

EU Institutions press releases

DN: IP/03/117     Date: 24/01/2003



Brussels, 24 January 2003

Commission pursues infringement proceedings against eight Member States for non-compliance with Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

The European Commission is acting to protect Europe's environment by pursuing infringement procedures against Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Austria, Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany and Greece. The Commission is concerned about these Member States' failure to comply with an EU law requiring that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) be carried out on public and private projects. Action is being taken against Luxembourg for failing to comply with a ruling of the European Court of Justice. Luxembourg is to receive a Letter of Formal Notice (first written warning) under Article 228 of the EC Treaty concerning its failure to correctly implement an 1997 amendment to the EIA Directive. The UK is being referred to the Court of Justice for failing to carry out an EIA on a proposed development project at Crystal Palace in London. Austria is being referred to the Court for failing to bring its legislation for the assessment of projects aimed at restructuring rural landholdings into line with the Directive in certain Länder (provinces). Italy is being referred to the Court in a case relating to the port of Fossacesia, and is to receive Reasoned Opinions (Final Written Warnings) in two other cases. Spain is to receive a Reasoned Opinion in three interrelated cases for excluding urban development projects from the requirement for an EIA. The UK, Finland, Germany and Greece are to receive Reasoned Opinions for inadequately implementing the Directive. Reasoned Opinions represent the second stage of formal infringement procedures under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. In the absence of a satisfactory reply within two months of receipt of the Final Written Warning, the Commission may refer the cases to the Court of Justice.

Commenting on the decisions Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "I regret that the Commission has had to once again take action against Member States in order to ensure that they carry out impact assessments on environmentally significant projects, in accordance with the Directive. Impact assessment helps achieve sustainable development throughout the European Union and is vital to maintaining the high standards of protection set by the EU legislation."

Cases against individual Member States (only UK included here)

United Kingdom

The Commission has decided to refer the UK to the Court of Justice, under Article 226 of the EC Treaty, for failing to carry out an environmental impact assessment on a project for a large multiplex cinema and leisure complex at Crystal Palace, London. The UK authorities failed to do so even though the project exceeded the threshold for assessment that is stipulated in the official UK screening guidelines. The Court referral also concerns the general question of how the UK applies the Directive to development consent procedures. Under UK legislation, matters can be "reserved" at the time of the initial development consent decision, to be considered at a later date. Those "reserved matters" therefore appear to be excluded from the EIA procedure required by the Directive.

In a separate case, the UK will be sent a Final Written Warning in relation to its system of allocating "certificates of lawful development" to projects like scrap-yards, which could be covered by the Directive. This certificate protects the operator from prosecution under the planning laws. Its effect is to exempt such projects from requiring planning permission and, therefore, from having to consider whether an EIA may be required. The Commission considers that the "certificate of lawful development" should be granted only if the rules with regard to EIAs are respected.



The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

The Directive(2) is an important part of EU environmental legislation. It requires Member States to carry out environmental impact assessments (EIA) on 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. For some projects (such as motorway construction) listed in an Annex I to the Directive, such assessments are obligatory. For others (such as urban development projects) listed in Annex II, Member States must operate a screening system to determine which projects 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 objective of an EIA is to identify and describe the environmental impacts of projects and to assess whether prevention or mitigation is appropriate. During the EIA procedure, the public can provide input and express environmental concerns with regard to the project. The results of this consultation must be taken into account during the authorisation process.

The necessary national legislation should have been implemented by July 1988. An amendment to the Directive was adopted in 1997. While retaining the basic framework of the original Directive, the amendment reinforced many of the Directive's details. It made more projects subject to mandatory EIA, introduced more detailed criteria for deciding whether an EIA is necessary in other cases, required developers to provide information on possible alternatives examined, and required reasons to be given by the decision-maker even if the development consent was granted. Member States were required to adopt the necessary national legislation to take account of this amendment by March 1999.

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 Community law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (or 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" (or 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 Community 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.

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.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:


(1)Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna

(2)Council Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, amended by Directive 97/11/EC

Link to EU Commission Press Release: http://www.europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=gt&doc=IP/03/117|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=

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