BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Legal cases against European Union countries for not implementing common environmental rules have risen at a time when EU leaders have declared tackling climate change a priority, figures showed yesterday. The executive European Commission polices the bloc’s rules and has launched thousands of cases against states for failing to introduce regulations agreed at EU level. Last week alone, it began or stepped up 955 cases in a quarterly review aimed at ensuring an internal market of 490 million people works efficiently for businesses and consumers. In the first six months of 2007, the average number of ongoing cases was 53 per EU state, up from 50 six months ago. Malta, Poland and Ireland showed big increases, the Commission said yesterday. After the environment, the next most common sectors for legal action were tax and customs and then energy and transport. The Commission said failing to implement rules could hit businesses that operate cross-border and also harm EU states themselves by making them a less attractive place to invest. The executive said the gap between the number of EU rules adopted and those implemented into national laws rose to 1.6 percent, well above the 1 percent target for end of 2009. «For some member states the result is very disappointing,» said EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. «But overall there are signs that we will be back on track again in six months’ time,» McCreevy said. The worst offenders include Portugal, Poland, Greece and Italy, while Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia already meet the 1 percent target. The EU has launched an out-of-court mediation service known as Solvit to avoid time consuming legal action and high-profile clashes between Brussels and member states. Legal action can take years to end up in the European Court of Justice which has powers to fine countries. Solvit handled over 350 cases in the year’s first half but Solvit centers in about half of EU member states are understaffed, the Commission said.