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defying rules does not pay as Germany and Italy have realised to their dismay. The European Commission (ec) has slapped heavy fines on these countries for disregarding the rulings of the European Court of Justice on breaches of European Union (eu) environmental legislation.
For infringing laws related to the protection of wild birds, groundwater and surface water, Germany has been asked to pay fines of us $31,420, $314,200 and $188,520 respectively for each day that it violates the laws. Similarly, Italy has been asked to pay daily fines of us $147,460 and $189,591 for failure to comply with legislation on waste and radiation protection respectively.
The fines reflect the new powers granted to the ec under the Maastrict treaty which allow it to ask the Court of Justice to impose penalties on member states that defy rulings. Said an ec official, "We think it is extremely important that member states abide by the legislations adopted in the eu. We were very pleased that the Maastrict treaty gave us the right to impose fines." The decision to fine the erring countries also show ec's new priority of implementing existing laws instead of adopting new legislations.
Toughening its stand, ec will now target the remaining 12 cases of environmental violations committed by other eu countries, including Belgium (four violations), France (six) and Greece and Luxembourg (one each). The fines are based on a formula which start with a flat rate of nearly us $600 for all member states. This is multiplied by factors designed to reflect the gravity of the infringement, the population of the member state and its voting weight in the eu Council of Ministers.
The Commission has also taken note of certain practices in the eu by which several Nordic countries and Germany use domestic environmental taxes and charges to block the circulation of goods from other member states. This, feels the ec, is affecting the single eu market by blocking trade among the countries. Coming down heavily on such practices, it has defined guidelines clarifying how such taxes can be made compatible with the single market.
In another development, the ec, in a meeting on January 29 at Brussels, did not endorse controversial proposals under which companies would be forced to pay for causing environmental damage. Instead it allowed itself to be persuaded on letting Ritt Bjerregaard, the eu environment commissioner, prepare options for a harmonised 'polluter pays' principle across the eu. Bjerregaard had argued for a wide-ranging liability law covering all environmental damage, including personal injury and damage to property.