Greece infringes EU environmental rules

The European Court of Justice has convicted Greece of environmental infringements over unauthorized landfill sites, inadequate or non-existing sewage treatment plants and disrespect for protected areas and species. In July 2000, the EU had already ruled against an illegal dump at Kouroupitos, in western Crete. Late last year, Brussels again targeted another dump: the one at Pera Galinoi near Iraklio, Crete. «If in this case as well the country does not fulfill its obligations on waste management and sanitary internment sites as outlined in the (91/156 and 99/31) directives, a new fine will be levied by the European Court,” said lawyer Angeliki Harakopou. As early as 2001, the Commission repeatedly reminded Greece to address the threat to human health and the environment caused by the unauthorized landfill at Pera Galinoi. However, the Greek government has not taken any action and has not said when it will complete studies and plans to remedy the problem. When European officials inspected Pera Galinoi in January 2002 and confirmed that «the objective of the directive had not been met,» the Greek government blamed the «exceptionally adverse conditions resulting from rainfall» during the inspection. According to official data, 1,300 illegal landfill sites are operating in Greece. Waste treatment Treatment plants are another major problem. Consider the case at Psyttaleia, which the European Court will soon hear. In 1994, a reassessment of environmental regulations made it illegal to dump dried-out sewage sludge from the biological waste-processing plant on the island of Psyttaleia into landfills. Nevertheless, the sewage sludge from Psyttaleia was dumped at the Ano Liosia landfill site without being dried out. In a February 16 decision, the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, ruled that the sludge «transferred to the Ano Liosia landfill site without being appropriately processed is considered to be the cause of the huge landslide that occurred on March 10, 2003.» The landslide destroyed the recycling center at the site, an expensive model plant. The reappraisal of environmental regulations specifically stated that «the use of any area on the island of Psyttaleia for the permanent disposal of sludge or other waste is prohibited.» However, the sludge has continued to be dumped illegally at Psyttaleia over the last few years. The Council of State’s decision made it clear that «… it is no longer possible to dispose of sludge on the island of Psyttaleia. Due to saturation in the area, there is a risk of the sludge leaking into the sea in the Saronic Gulf causing considerable damage to the marine environment.» An incineration unit is being prepared, instead of the planned unit to dry out the sludge. But this new unit could cause severe pollution affecting the Thriassio Plain, Salamina and Piraeus. The European Court will examine the issue shortly. Last July, the European Court also ruled against Greece for failing to construct a treatment plant on the Thriassio Plain. This treatment plant should have already been operating by Dec. 31, 1998, but by 2003 the government had not yet planned for it. Today, the government continues to make excuses justifying the plant’s delay. So far, only the funding to build a sewage network has been approved, following action by the prefecture. The third major environmental problem is the lack of protection for species in areas covered by the Natura 2000 directive (92/43). On January 30, 2002, the European Court also issued a ruling on the Caretta-caretta turtle. The government persists in authorizing works that degrade areas covered by the Natura project. Greece argues that the list of areas to be included the EU is not yet complete. «With decision 1785/2003 (concerning the Foloi wood),» said Harakopou, the lawyer, «the Council of State has already judged that until the Community List for Natura areas is done away with, areas that were proposed by the government for inclusion in the national list ‘should enjoy protection status that ensures they are satisfactorily preserved’.»