Mar 19, 2001

European Union Names Member Cities Dumping Sewage

Many European Union (EU) countries are releasing raw or inadequately treated sewage into their rivers, breaching EU environmental rules agreed to years ago, the European Commission revealed today.
Hoping to ``name and shame'' countries into implementing a 10-year-old EU water treatment law, the Commission has listed 37 large cities that dump sewage directly into rivers.
Brussels and Milan were among the towns with populations larger than 150,000 polluting rivers and seas with raw sewage, according to the Commission — the EU's executive arm.
Topping the Commission's list of countries with the most large cities pumping raw sewage into the waters were Britain, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Germany and France have not yet supplied data indicating how many of their cities pollute. The North, Baltic and Adriatic seas were all suffering to a ''worrying'' degree from excessive sewage, the Commission said.
``The environment of the EU would look different if legislation was enforced in member states,'' EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said. EU governments agreed in 1991 to rules which set minimum standards for urban wastewater treatment.
The Commission is holding a ``name and shame'' seminar on waste water today, the first of several such meetings planned by Wallstrom.
While the Commission can take countries to court if they breach EU laws, the legal process takes many years and financial penalties can be imposed only after two lengthy court cases.
Wallstrom hopes her new approach will prompt lacking governments to act — setting a good example for central and eastern European countries waiting to join the EU, since their environmental standards often lag behind.
``Member states are setting a bad example and sending a deplorable message to the candidate countries which are being criticized for not transposing EU environmental legislation quickly enough,'' she added.
Theoretically, those countries waiting to join the 15-nation EU group must work all existing EU directives into their own national law before joining.