Case C-600/12, Commission v Greece

Greece infringing EU law by not prohibiting uncontrolled management of landfill site at Natura 2000 site

>> The Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98, herinafter: „ WFD”) requires Member States to take the necessary measures to ensure that waste management is carried out without endangering human health and without harming the environment. Member States are also required to prohibit the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled management of waste. In addition, all grants of landfill permits are subject to certain condition (on the basis of the landfll Directve (Directive 1999/31)) while the Habitats Directive requires that the effects of projects likely to affect a site significantly must be appropriately assessed by reference to objectives relating to the conservation of habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

National Marine Park of Zakinthos was part of the Natura 2000 network on account of the sea turtles there (Caretta caretta). However, environmental problems caused, since 1999, by landfill operations within the park had had a serious impact on the habitat of those turtles.The waste management plan for the region of the Ionian Islands had, since 2005 (the planned end- of-life date for the landfill site), in fact provided for the construction of a new landfill site in a different location on Zakinthos. In 2005, the Zakinthos Association for the Management of Solid Waste proposed five possible new landfill sites (two of those sites, which were located in a mountainous area, received positive feedback in 2008). However, the Association failed to submit an environmental impact assessment for the construction of the new landfill site. The existing landfill site was still operating in the marine park even though the permits and environmental conditions relating thereto expired in 2006. It was decided that, at the same time that rehabilitation and improvement works were being carried out on the site, the existing landfill would continue to receive waste generated on Zakinthos until the new landfill site begins operating (or until 31 December 2015 when the environmental conditions renewed in 2011 by Ministerial Decree expire). 

Taking the view that Greece was in breach of EU environmental legislation, the Commission had brought infringement proceedings before the Court of Justice. Greece had in fact already been found to have infringed EU law by the Court in a case relating to the same species in the same region (see Case C-103/00 Commission v Greece).

The Court held that Member State may not plead practical difficulties, administrative or financial to justify failure to observe obligations and time limits laid down by a directive (see, to that effect, Commission / United Kingdom C -301/10, EU: C: 2012:633). 

The Court reiterated  that the existence of an infringement must be assessed according to the situation of the Member State as it stood at the end of the deadline set in the reasoned opinion (see Commission / France, C-193/12, EU: C: 2013:394; and Commission / Spain, C-67/12, EU: C: 2014:5). The Court noted that  Greece had not taken any steps to meet its obligations under Articles 13 and 36, paragraph 1 of Directive 2008/98, ), 12 and 14 of Directive 1999/31 and 6, paragraph 3, of the Habitats  Directive. 

The Court reiterated that according to its case-law on the burden of proof in the context of infringement proceedings under Article 258 TFEU, it was for the Commission to establish the existence of alleged breach. So she must provide the Court with the information necessary to verify by it of the existence of such breach (see, to that effect, Commission / Finland, C-335/07, EU: C: 2009:612 and Commission / United Kingdom, EU: C: 2012:633). 
The Cour held that where the Commission had provided sufficient evidence, it was for the Member State concerned to challenge in substance and in detail the information produced and the consequences (see stops Commission / Finland, EU: C: 2009:612, and Commission / United Kingdom, EU: C: 2012:633). 

The Court held that although Article of the WFD left a certain margin of discretion to the Member States, the discretion had clearly been exceeded  considering that the persistence of de facto situation leading to a significant degradation of the environment  (see, to that effect, Commission / Italy, EU: C: 2010:115, and Commission / Portugal, EU: C: 2010:331). The Court thus found that Greece had  failed to fulfill its obligations under Article 13 of Directive 2008/98. 

The Court added that  by keeping in operation, on the Island of Zakinthos, an overfull landfill site which was not functioning properly and which did not comply with EU environmental legislation, Greece had also failed to fulfil its obligations under the Land fill Directive. The Court added that by renewing the landfill permit for the site in question without complying with the procedure referred to in Article 6, paragraph 3, of the Habitats Directive, Greece also infringed that Directive. 

Text of Judgment