A new Commission report indicates a marked improvement in the implementation of environmental legislation by member states.

The Commission has long struggled against reluctant member states, slow to implement European legislation in the area. Figures for the end of 2005, however, highlight an overall reduction of 14% in the number of infringement cases.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that “proper implementation of EU environmental laws by member states is crucial to ensure a clean environment” and that “the reduction in the number of cases against member states is good news” before adding that compliance efforts still had to be improved. The fall in numbers may be accounted for in part by the Commission’s adoption of a new approach to dealing with such cases. Infringements of the same type are now grouped together and there is a focus on horizontal cases which cut across several policy areas (e.g. illegal landfills, waste-water treatment plants).

Among the worst offenders last year were Italy, Spain, France and Ireland. However, all made some movement towards improving their record in 2006, with the notable exception of Italy, which deteriorated. The most impressive improvements were made by Germany and Finland, which witnessed an 11% and 13% drop respectively.

On the other side of the table, the new member states were prominent, with ten of the 12 best performers having joined the Union in 2004.

The report emphasises the importance of Commission intervention as a spur for member states to take remedial action, with such intervention accounting for more than 90% of cases closed by the Commission in 2005.