Italy must get rid of its status as the least observant EU country in the area of environmental directives, Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio said on Wednesday .

Brussels currently has 80 proceedings under way against Italy on environmental matters, more than any other EU country, said the centre-left minister, who is also leader of Italy's Green party .

In eight cases the European Court of Justice has already found Rome to be at fault and fines amounting to 100 million euros could soon be imposed unless rapid action is taken, he added .

Most of the EU proceedings against Italy focus on the areas of waste disposal, protection of natural habitats and assessments of the environmental impact of construction projects .

"This situation hardly makes us shine. We have a duty to comply with community norms," Pecoraro Scanio said . Putting much of the blame on allegedly lax enforcement of environmental laws under the previous centre-right government, the minister said Italy had to win back credibility in Brussels .

He said that during five years in which Silvio Berlusconi was premier, the infraction proceedings on environmental matters against Italy went from 22 to 80 . Altero Matteoli, who was environment minister in the Berlusconi government, denied these figures, saying his successor's information was "not up-to-date" . He said he resolved most of the violations signalled by Brussels during his time in office and noted that in many cases regional governments were mainly responsibility for the breaches of EU directives .

Pecoraro Scanio raised this point himself, saying he intended to ask regional governments to do their part in clearing up the backlog, since 46 of the 80 breaches were their responsibility .

The minister's comments came as he presented an overview of Italy's current situation with regard to EU environment directives - a first step on the way to addressing the problems. Last week he was asked by Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema to take "quick and decisive action" to make sure Italy avoided hefty fines . Pecoraro Scanio said he would be meeting the European Commissioner for the Environment shortly in order to discuss Italy's situation .

As well as heading the EU table for breaches of environmental norms, the minister said Italy also leads the way for breaches in all areas, with a total of 274 .