According to a report published by the European Commission, European Union (EU) countries have "serious shortcomings" in how they implement EU environmental laws. This deprives citizens of the high level of environmental protection that they expect. The "Fifth Annual Survey on the implementation and enforcement of EU environmental law" illustrates that Member States are late in transposing environmental Directives: until the end of 2003, there were 88 cases in which environmental Directives were not transposed on time. In 118 cases, the Directives were not correctly transposed, and in 95 cases Member States did not meet "secondary" obligations under the Directives, for example deadlines for presenting certain plans, submitting data or designating protected areas. Compliance varies from Member State to Member State, with France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain having the worst records. Most shortcomings have been found in the sectors of water, waste, nature protection and environmental impact assessments.
Commenting on the report, Margot Wallström, the Environment Commissioner, said: "During my mandate, I have been struck by the high number of complaints about non-compliance with EU environmental law that we have received from citizens, NGOs and the Parliament. This survey shows that these concerns are justified: implementation of EU environmental law is bad. I hope the survey's findings will give Member States reason to improve their record and provide their citizens with the level of environmental protection that they demand."
The survey also reports on environmental infringement procedures initiated by the Commission. As in earlier years, the environment sector in 2003 represented over a third of all complaints and ongoing infringement cases concerning non-compliance with EU law. The number of ongoing infringement procedures related to violations of EU environmental law was 509, and the number of new complaints was 505.
Implementation of EU environmental law clearly needs to be improved. This is all the more important now that the EU has enlarged, in order to ensure that the new Member States transpose and implement correctly the environmental acquis communautaire within the agreed timeframes.
Taking non-compliant Member States to the European Court of Justice is not the only, nor necessarily the most efficient way to ensure compliance because the proceedings are time-consuming.
The Commission's Environment Directorate-General has therefore developed a more proactive approach both in the preparation and in the implementation of environmental legislation, including regular contacts with officials responsible for implementation at national level and the offer of 'technical assistance'. However, the Commission can only assist in implementation - the Member States are the ones that need to carry it out.
The purpose of the Annual Survey is to provide systematic, reliable and transparent information to the public about Member State compliance with EU environmental law. It contributes to the goals of the 1998 Aarhus Convention, which seeks to provide citizens with access to environmental information and to allow them to participate in decision-making and to seek judicial redress.