Brussels, 3 July 2006
Environmental impact assessment: Commission takes legal action to improve implementation in 10 Member States
The European Commission has initiated infringement procedures against 10 Member States over violations of a key EU law on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of projects. This directive aims to ensure that the environmental effects of a wide range of infrastructural, industrial, mineral extraction and other projects are properly examined before any works are undertaken. The law also gives important participation rights to citizens. The Commission has identified gaps and deficiencies in the ten Member States’ laws and has therefore decided to send first written warnings to ensure that they comply with all the provisions of the Directive.
Enviroment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “EU citizens and the European Parliament regularly express concerns about how environmental impact assessment is carried out. Improving the national and regional legislation on this will reduce the potential for grievances to arise and protect Europe’s environment more effectively. “
The EIA Directive requires Member States to carry out environmental impact assessments of certain public and private projects, before they are authorised, where it is believed that the projects are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. The objective is to identify the environmental impacts and assess whether prevention or mitigation is appropriate. The public must be consulted and its comments taken into account when a decision is taken on whether to authorise the project.
For some projects, such as motorway construction, EIAs are obligatory while for others, for example urban development projects, Member States must operate a screening system to determine which ones require assessment. They can apply thresholds or criteria, carry out case-by-case examination or use a combination of these screening instruments, the aim being to ensure that all environmentally significant projects are assessed.
The Directive was adopted in 1985 and strengthened by a revision in 1997. Member States were required to adopt the necessary national legislation to take account of this amendment by March 1999. A further amendment was adopted in 2003 giving citizens rights to seek judicial redress in relation to public participation.
Having evaluated the national legislation implementing the revised Directive in each Member State, the Commission has identified a number of areas where Member States fail to comply fully. The Commission has therefore sent first warning letters to the following Member States: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Poland.
Different grounds for non-compliance were identified in each Member State. Common problems include not requiring certain project categories to undergo EIAs and a failure to make adequate provision for screening projects to see if an EIA is needed. In particular, smaller projects were not adequately addressed.
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