Commission questions environmental impact assessment measures in Portugal, Sweden and Greece

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Brussels, 29 October 2002

Commission questions environmental impact assessment measures in Portugal, Sweden and Greece

The European Commission has decided to refer Portugal to the European Court of Justice for not correctly carrying out a prior environmental impact assessment on the final section of the Lisbon to Algarve motorway. The Commission is concerned that environmental impacts, especially those affecting the habitat of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), were not properly assessed beforehand. The Iberian Lynx is one of the most endangered cat species in the world. The Commission has also sent formal requests to Greece and Sweden to ensure adequate impact assessment measures. The request to Greece concerns the Mamidakis petrochemical plant in Lesbos, which has been operating without a permit since 1997 on a site that was nominated for the Natura 2000 network of protected sites under the EU’s Habitats Directive. No adequate prior environmental impact assessment was carried out here either and the Commission is worried that the nature conservation value of this sensitive area is being damaged. The request to Sweden is to ensure that Swedish legislation is amended so as to require adequate environmental impact assessments prior to the decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear power plants and reactors. The formal requests to Greece and Sweden take the form of so-called ‘reasoned opinions’, the second stage of formal infringement procedures. If the Greek and Swedish authorities do not comply within two months of receiving the reasoned opinions, the Commission may decide to refer to cases to the Court of Justice.

Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "These decisions once again illustrate the need for Member States to provide prior and adequate environmental impact assessment of important projects."


The decision to refer Portugal to the Court relates to the final section of the Lisbon/Algarve motorway. The chosen route crosses three protected Natura 2000 sites. Under the Habitats Directive, any project likely to have a significant effect on a site must be properly assessed to take account of the site's conservation objectives. In the initial assessment in this case, alternative corridors were studied which included routes that had a lower impact on nature and particularly on protected species, including the Iberian Lynx. The Commission is not convinced that the selection of the final route and the comparison with the other alternatives considered properly the impact on the above-mentioned Natura 2000 sites.


Since 1997, a petrochemical storage plant has been operating illegally on the island of Lesbos. Greek legislation implementing the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive requires that prior environmental impact assessment of the plant should have been carried out. However, the Greek Council of State has declared the environmental impact assessment procedures that were carried out in 1996 and in 2000 null and void. The Mamidakis plant is located in the Gulf of Geras, a Natura 2000 site that hosts many rare habitats and species earmarked for conservation and protection under the Habitats Directive. The Commission considers that, by allowing this plant to function in such a sensitive location without adequate prior environmental impact assessment, Greece has breached the requirements of both the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Habitats Directive.


The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive requires that the dismantling and decommissioning of nuclear power plants and reactors should be made subject to development consent and to the carrying out of a prior environmental impact assessment. Swedish legislation does not currently include these requirements. Sweden has informed the Commission that it plans to amend its legislation, but the Commission still has not received the necessary notification. A specific case exists in southern Sweden where decommissioning of the Barsebäck I nuclear power reactor was decided and dismantling has started without a prior environmental impact assessment.


The Habitats Directive

The Habitats Directive1 provides for a protection scheme covering a range of animal and plant species, as well as selected habitat types. It also provides for the creation of a network of protected sites known as Natura 2000. This network should ensure that the best examples of EU natural habitats, as well as areas hosting rare and endangered plant and animal species, are properly conserved and protected.

A set of safeguards applies to all sites in the network. Plans and projects that can have potentially negative effects on the protected habitats must first be adequately assessed and only approved if they first meet the stringent conditions. As such, plans or projects that are judged likely to have a negative effect upon habitats and species can only be approved if no alternative solution exists.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

This Directive2 requires Member States to carry out environmental impact assessments (EIA) on certain public and private projects - before they are authorised - where it is believed that they are likely to have a significant impact on the environment. For some projects (such as motorway construction) listed in Annex I to the Directive, such assessments are obligatory. For others (such as urban development projects) listed in Annex II, Member States must first operate a screening system to determine which projects require prior 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 effectively.

The objective of an EIA is to identify and describe the environmental impacts of projects and to assess whether prevention or mitigation is appropriate. During the EIA procedure, the public can provide input and express its environmental concerns with regard to the project. The results of this consultation must be taken into account during the authorisation process.

The necessary national legislation should have been implemented throughout the EU by July 1988. An amendment to the Directive was adopted in 1997. While retaining the basic framework of the original Directive, the amendment reinforces many aspects of the original text. Member States were required to adopt the necessary national legislation to take account of this amendment by March 1999.

1Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna

2Council Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, amended by Directive 97/11/EC

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