EU law to criminalize pollution

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas yesterday explained that a new European Union directive will criminalize activities that cause serious environmental damage, touching on a sensitive area for Greece which has been condemned as one of the bloc’s laggards when it comes to environmental protection. Addressing a seminar in Athens attended by Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili, Dimas said the new directive – which should be adopted by EU member states by December 2010 – foresees serious penalties against those countries where serious environmental oversights have created situations posing a public health risk. «The directive is very significant as it dictates that all environmental crimes be punished in the same way in all EU member states and ensures that there are no havens for violators,» Dimas said, referring to the fact that many manufacturers often relocate to countries where the legislation is less strict to avoid facing fines for pollution. Birbili said an example of an area for which Greece is likely to come under fire is the Asopos River in central Greece, which contains worryingly high traces of toxic chemicals due to runoff from nearby manufacturers. As government officials brace for this new piece of legislation, authorities are still struggling to implement another EU directive adopted by the previous government in September which obliges offending firms to pay to clean up the pollution they are accused of causing. According to Margarita Karavassili, a senior official at the Environment Ministry’s inspectorate, the enforcement of this directive is difficult because «there is no mechanism for assessing the cost» of activities alleged to have caused pollution. In a related development Karavassili heralded the creation of a trade park with special provisions in an area near the polluted Asopos River by the summer of next year. The hundreds of small and large manufacturers operating within this zone would be obliged to conform to a set of regulations aimed at protecting the environment, the ministry official said. Birbili noted that cleaning up pollution in the greater area of the Asopos, including the town of Oinofyta, which is particularly badly affected, was a priority for her ministry as «more than 200,000 local residents face the risks posed by polluted water and food.»

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