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Ireland: Commission to=bring environmental impact assessment case to the European Court of=20 Justice

Reference:  IP/07/1524    Date:  = 17/10/2007
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Brussels, 17 October 2007

Ireland: Commission to brin= environmental impact assessment case to the European Cour= of Justice

The European Commission =as decided to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice=20 (ECJ) in a case concerning European Community (EC) legisl=tion on environmental impact assessments. The case concerns = provisions of Irish legislation governing the approval of=20 incinerators and other large industrial projects and provisions governing the removal of important archaeologi=al sites. The Commission is happy to announce that steps tak=n by the Irish authorities have brought the Commission to clos= a separate case concerning nitrates. The Commission also = welcomes a co-operation document agreed between Ireland a=d the United Kingdom on combating illegal waste exports.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "I am=20 disappointed that Ireland has not accepted the Commission=view that improvements are needed in its legislation on impact=20 assessments in order to better safeguard, and give the pu=lic more say in decisions affecting, its rich archaeological=20 heritage, and to better guarantee that industrial project= will be comprehensively assessed."

Court referral on Irish environmental impact assess=ent rules

The Commission is referring Ireland to the ECJ over = shortcomings in Irish legislation used to implement the=20 Environmental Impact Assessment Directive[1]. Under the directive, Membe= States are obliged to carry out environmental impact assessments (EIA) before certain types of public and priv=te projects believed to have a significant impact on the environment are authorised. The Commission's case is divi=ed into two parts.

First, the Commission considers Ireland's approach to=20 decisions involving the removal of historic structures an= archaeological monuments to be in contravention of the = directive. The directive expressly mentions effects on = archaeological heritage and the Commission is concerned t=at Ireland interprets the directive as not applying to certa=n separate decisions involving the removal of structures an= monuments in order to facilitate infrastructure and other=20 project types covered by the directive. In a final warnin= sent to Ireland in June 2007, the Commission mentioned by=way of example the lack of an assessment carried out for a 20=7 decision to remove a national monument situated at Lismul=in in the path of the M3 motorway project near Tara in Count= Meath. Because the pre-historic site was only identified =n 2007, its significance could not be taken into account in=a 2003 assessment of the motorway project.In response, Irel=nd argues that the ministerial direction in relation to the=20 excavation and preservation by record of the national mon=ment in question does not constitute an element of the develop=ent consent for the M3 under the provisions of the Directive.=/P>

Secondly, the Commission considers that, because of = weaknesses in Irish legislation splitting decision-making=20 between Irish planning authorities and Ireland's Environm=ntal Protection Agency, there are risks that outcomes required=by the directive will not always be achieved. When decisions=are being taken on proposed incinerators and other industrial=20 projects, for example, Irish rules do not guarantee that=20 inter-actions such as those between pollution-control mea=ures and the landscape will be adequately assessed and taken i=to account. In its response to the Commission's June 2007 fi=al written warning Ireland strongly defends its project appr=val procedure.

Closure of case on the Nitrates Directive

The adoption of higher national sanctions this summer =as allowed the Commission to close its case against Ireland =or breaching the Nitrates Directive[2]. In March 2004 Ireland was=20 condemned by the ECJ for not putting in place an action=20 programme to reduce nitrate pollution from agricultural=20 run-off[3]. Since then Ireland has ado=ted new legislation to give effect to an action programme. Th=s involves requirements to safely store slurries, prohibit=20 land-spreading during the winter and avoid excessive use =f fertilizers.

Co-operation document on illegal waste exports<=P>

The Commission welcomes the adoption of a co-operation=20 document aimed at strengthening contacts between Ireland =nd the United Kingdom to combat illegal waste exports. In 20=4, the Commission contacted both Member States after becomin= aware of significant illegal waste exports from Ireland t= Northern Ireland. Following this, both States worked toge=her to deal with the problem and have agreed on a co-operatio= document.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers =o take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an = infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal=20 Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State conce=ned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified d=te, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from t=e Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to addr=ss a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member=20 State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons=why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law= and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified=20 period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned=20 Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case befo=e the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds th=t the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State=is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power t= act against a Member State that does not comply with a previo=s judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article a=so allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financ=al penalty on the Member State concerned.
For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:


[1] Directive 85/337/EEC on the=20 assessment of the effects of certain public and private=20 projects on the environment

[2] Directive 91/676/EEC concern=ng the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates=from agricultural sources

[3] Case C-396/01, Commission=v Ireland