In parliament >> The north-south divide

13th February 2012

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Related tags

  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • EU



Chris Davies, MEP, discusses the differences in approach to environmental regulation between the north and south of Europe

Environmentalists in the UK have it easy. We take it for granted that laws intended to curb pollution will be properly enforced. We have inspectors to carry out checks and a legal system that supports their action. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.

In making European environment laws we tend to assume this is how it is everywhere. It’s an assumption that is often false. The stereotype is that, while northern Europeans expect new laws to be applied, southern Europeans regard them more as expressions of good intent. I was reminded that there is some truth in this when I spoke in the European Parliament the other day to a visitor group from Greece.

The enforcement structure that we regard as normal simply doesn’t exist in Greece. The data needed for proper pollution control are often not available, pollution inspections take place only in response to complaints rather than on a routine basis, and under-the-counter payments too often make inspectors go away.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that Greece was the first country to face the full rigour of EU infringement proceedings.

After the European Commission failed to persuade the authorities to prevent a waste tip on Crete leaching into the Mediterranean, the European Court of Justice in 1999 imposed a fine of €20,000 a day on Greece until the work was carried out. It took five months before the all-clear was given and payments ceased.

The country’s economic plight frustrates other improvements, yet some are being made. Discharges into the sea around the coasts have been almost eliminated, I am told, and of course the EU standards now required of auto manufacturers mean that all new vehicles are less polluting than their predecessors.

Now if only the illegal use in lorries and taxis of high-sulphur marine fuel could be stopped ...


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