State faces €3.2m fine over breach of EU ruling


THE EU Commission has initiated a second legal action against the Government over its failure to adopt a farming environmental directive and will ask Europe’s highest court to fine Ireland at least €3.27 million for breaching a prior ruling of its judges.

A spokesman for environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said Ireland’s proposals to meet its obligations “didn’t meet the requirements of the directive” on the protection of the countryside heritage. “Two years after the judgment, Ireland has still not adopted legislation to address the issue.”

Responding, the Government said the environment and agriculture departments are developing a further response to the judgment and plan to consult with the commission.

“This response will be finalised in the next few weeks with the aim of ensuring that the judgment is fully complied with and that fines are not imposed,” said the Department of Environment.

Implementation of the directive before the European Court of Justice rules in the new case would remove the commission’s ground for complaint. However, the court has in the past imposed a large fine against France for its prior failure to implement a directive it later transposed.

In the new case against Ireland the commission will ask the court to impose a fine of €4,000 for each day since the court ruled against Ireland on November 20th 2008 and for each day until the court issues a new infringement ruling. Any failure to comply with a new ruling should be punished by a fine of €33,000 per day.

While a fine of €3.27 million would already be due in respect of the 818 days since the 2008 ruling if the judges found in favour of the commission, the fact that new infringement cases typically take two years to come before the European Court of Justice leaves open the possibility that Ireland could face a fine twice as large as that.

The Government is required under the directive on the assessment of the environmental impact of certain public and private projects to set up a system to decide whether an environmental impact assessment study is required before authorisation.

Under the directive, the decision on when such an assessment is required can be made according to set thresholds, case-by-case analysis or other criteria in line with EU criteria.

In its 2008 ruling, the Luxembourg-based court found that Ireland’s thresholds were too high for setting out when an environmental impact assessment is required for water management, irrigation and land drainage projects and the restructuring of rural landholdings.

“This means that projects can go ahead unchecked and damage or destroy archaeological sites, which generally occupy areas less than one-hundredth of the size of the threshold, or other sensitive countryside features,” the commission said.

The Government said it had proposed “fundamental” reforms to reduce mandatory thresholds cited in the ruling by up to 95 per cent. Above such thresholds a planning application and case-by-case screening for environmental impact assessment will be required.

“The commission has taken the view that these proposals do not adequately address the judgment,” the Government said.