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European Legal Issues: Hazardous Substances, Birds, Wolves
BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 3, 2008 (ENS) - The European Commission is bringing Italy before the European Court of Justice for failing to draw up emergency plans in case of major accidents for installations where hazardous substances are present.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "The Italian authorities must implement contingency plans to protect its citizens and the environment from the consequences of major industrial accidents. It is absolutely vital that installations dealing with hazardous materials have emergency plans in the event of an accident. Every step must be taken to prevent the consequences of such accidents."

EU legislation on controlling the hazardous consequences of major accidents involving dangerous substances requires member states to set up emergency plans for areas surrounding industrial installations that store or handle large quantities of dangerous substances.

The law requires authorities in member states to draw up emergency plans for these installations by February 3, 2002.

An Italian worker makes certain that the chemicals in his workspace are secured. (Photo courtesy Campioni)

In October 2007 the Commission sent Italy a final warning letter highlighting that more than 20 percent of installations storing or handling dangerous substances did not have emergency plans.

In its two December 2007 responses Italy acknowledged this shortcoming and stated its commitment to prepare the remaining emergency plans.

However, Dimas said, it is clear that Italy has not complied with the directive to date and little suggests that the current shortcomings will be overcome soon. The Commission believes this state of affairs to be unacceptable and so is taking Italy before the European Court of Justice.

On another matter, the establishment of protected areas for migratory birds, Italy has made enough progress so that the Commission is closing its case.

In 2003 the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy had failed to classify a large number of zones as Special Protection Areas to protect bird species and other migratory species as required by the Wild Birds Directive.

The network of protection areas was especially deficient in Sicily, Sardinia, Lombardia and Calabria.

Italy now has designated the last outstanding sites and since Italian regions have a satisfactory level of special protection areas, the Commission considers that it has complied with the court ruling.

But Hungary has not done so well in complying with the Wild Birds Directive.

The Commission is sending Hungary a final written warning for not putting in place national measures for implementing this EU environmental law for the protection of wild birds.

The articles of the directive that are still not properly implemented into national law concern the taking of eggs in the wild and specific prohibitions for the hunting of certain species.

In addition, Hungarian laws on the hunting of woodcock do not comply with the Wild Birds Directive because they provide for a hunting season which overlaps with the reproduction, rearing and migratory stages of these species.

The Commission sent the government of Hungary a first warning letter in April 2006. Replies sent by Hungary in 2006 and 2007 show that a number of legislative measures adopted have addressed some of the issues raised, but that a number of others still remain.

Dimas said, "It is absolutely vital for member states to safeguard the biodiversity of our continent. European nature legislation is designed with the future in mind: by implementing directives designed to protect animals and habitats, member states are protecting the economies of tomorrow."

One of the estimated 30,000 birds killed in Hungary each year by electrocution. (Photo courtesy MME)

On another front, the government of Hungary is working with bird protectionists to safeguard birds from electrocutions.

On February 26, the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society, known as MME, signed an agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Water and all relevant electric companies in Hungary, to provide a long-term solution for bird electrocutions. The signing parties promised to transform power lines in Hungary, and to make them more bird friendly by 2020.

MME, the BirdLife International partner organization in Hungary, started to systematically gather data on electrocuted birds in 2004.

In total, 2,183 carcasses of electrocuted birds were found underneath 19,216 electric poles. Based on these findings, MME estimates that at least 30,000 birds are killed annually in this way.

"Electrocution is one of the most significant causes of death for several globally threatened raptor species, such as eastern imperial eagle, Saker falcon and red-footed falcon," said Márton Horváth of MME.

Concerning wolf hunting in Finland, Dimas said the Commission is closing its case against Finland on the granting of permits for wolf hunting because it considers that Finland has complied with a 2007 European Court of Justice ruling.

Over the past few years the 250 to 300 wolves in Finland have extended their territory from the traditional areas in the east - the Kainuu and North Karelia regions - to the central and western areas of the country.

Finland's wolves are strictly protected under the Habitats Directive.

In June 2007 the court ruled that Finland had breached this law on the conservation of natural habitats and wild animals and plants by granting permits for the hunting of wolves which failed to specify the conditions under which they could be hunted.

Following the court's ruling Finland adopted legislation that clarified the rules on the granting of permits to hunt wolves. Dimas said Finland has also demonstrated through case studies that "the hunting of wolves on a preventive basis" can limit attacks on domesticated animals.

On the basis of the new rules to protect wolves, the Commission considers that Finland has complied with the court ruling and can thus close the case.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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