Yet more European Commission allegations against Greece’s environmental action record

The European Union’s Court of Justice has made further allegations regarding illegal landfill sites in Greece and lost EU funds for environmental action. Due to the mismanagement of urban waste, the thousands of unrestricted landfill sites, volumes of hazardous industrial waste and problems at waste treatment sites, the European Commission is poised to take legal action against Greece. Above all, the 82 cases against Greece pending with the Commission are an indication of Greece’s poor environmental standards and the government’s – in this case the Environment and Public Works Ministry’s – inability to control (even when it really wants to) all the Medusa’s heads of the civil service. A visit to Greece two weeks ago by European Commission inspectors may have led to closure on a number of issues and in Greece dropping from sixth to seventh worst place among other member states, but a number of other issues still need to be settled. According to the report of a meeting between ministry and Commission officials recently submitted to the Cabinet general secretary and the prime minister’s legal bureau, the Commission is pressing for specific and immediate action on the following issues: Hazardous waste, illegal landfills. This month the Commission is scheduled to lodge another suit with the European Court of Justice on the question of illegal garbage dumps. It has asked for full details of progress with plans to abolish these sites and for the management of solid waste, particularly in Attica. The focus is on the siting of new waste treatment sites and hygienic landfill sites. Greece is obliged to make commitments regarding packaging waste and toxic waste such as mineral oils, the mismanagement of which has resulted in another case against Greece. Urban waste, treatment plants. In focusing on the operation of the waste treatment plant at Psyttaleia and the management of the sludge produced there, as well as insufficient progress in the plan to construct waste treatment plants in urban centers, Commission officials have asked for an update of the current plan and any initiatives for a centralized plan. Protection of the natural environment. The Commission has also asked for details of steps taken to protect ecologically sensitive areas such as the Natura 2000 regions, particularly Mesolongi, Kotychi, the Amvrakikos Gulf, the Koroneia Lake and the Nestos River, where relevant joint ministerial decisions are pending, before they can be declared protected. A considerable part of the talks dealt with the Schinias wetland, which a Commission team is due to visit. According to the Greek text, the Commission «has received information that commitments regarding measures to protect and improve the wetland are not being kept.» Drinking water. Talks on the quality of drinking water, particularly in urban areas, which is the main goal of EU Directive 98/83, has shown the government’s inability to prevail over local interests. The Commission has asked for details of municipalities’ compliance with management conditions and the testing of drinking water. Health Ministry officials stressed the difficulty of imposing policy on local government. The meeting could lead to the settlement of 12 of the 24 cases discussed «if commitments are fulfilled within certain time limits.» Major problems remain, since the conditions for managing waste, the construction of proper waste treatment and landfill sites, and the abolition of illegal landfills are the responsibility of local government. Tram, Caretta caretta and water supply for Igoumenitsa In addition to general infringements of environmental legislation, European Commission inspectors focused on a series of local but important issues, forcing the Greek government to take steps to tackle the problem. – Tram for Athens. The EU is concerned about the date when bids were called for in relation to the date of approval for the environmental impact assessment (EIA). It also asked for the publication of the EIA and whether alternative solutions had been explored. The answer has already been sent to Brussels and the matter is expected to be finalized. – Protection of the Caretta caretta turtle. The Environment Ministry has arranged a meeting between ministry and EU officials on Zakynthos to settle the matter. Greece must present a timetable for mapping the coastline. Copies of prefectural decisions, more facts about the refuge, and information about funding for the sea park will be sent to the EU. The EU has raised the issue of waste which ends up in the area. – Water supply for Igoumenitsa. The Greek government is calling for bids again, so as to treat the project as a new one and deal with infringements noted by the EU. – Pieria dams. The dams project is almost complete and, as the Greek government admits, it «directly contravenes EU legislation.» An answer will be sent by December 15, whereby the Agriculture Ministry and the regional administration will make a commitment not to construct the other two dams and to rehabilitate the area.