Brussels, 04 April 2006

Spain: Commission continues legal action for breaches of environmental law

The European Commission will take legal action against Spain on four cases of violation of EU environmental law.  Spain will receive a  first warning for its failure to execute a ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on an uncontrolled and illegal waste landfill in Punta de Avalos (La Gomera, Canary Islands).  The Commission will also send first written warnings to Spain in three cases for having breached the EU directives which require that an environmental impact assessment be carried out before undertaking work on infrastructure and projects. The cases concern the M-30 ring-road in Madrid, development projects in Cabo de Gata (Andalucía) and Peñíscola  (province of Castellon). In three of these cases, the projects have an impact on the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of nature protected areas and sites. Finally, the Commission will close one infringement case concerning three waste landfill sites following actions undertaken by the Spanish authorities to comply with an earlier Court ruling.

"I welcome the fact that we have been able to resolve the case of three waste landfill installations in Spain", said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "However, we are impatient to see the outstanding cases resolved by Spain.”

Waste: Illegal landfill in La Gomera Island (Canary Islands)

The Commission has decided to send a first written warning to Spain for not having executed a ruling of 28 April 2005 (Case 157/04). The Court had condemned Spain for not complying with EU legislation on waste in the case of the Punta de Avalos landfill, on La Gomera Island (Canary Islands). This landfill is close to the sea and located on a site which is part of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of protected areas, set up under the Habitats Directive[1]

In May 2005, the Commission asked Spain to report on the measures it had adopted to execute the ruling of the ECJ. The answer by the Spanish authorities was not satisfactory. Although it appears that there are no more discharges of waste into this landfill, the area still needs to be restored to its original natural state. Moreover, the landfill has not been properly inspected and no management plan has been foreseen. The Commission, therefore, asks the Spanish authorities to take the appropriate measures in order to execute the judgement of the Court of Justice.

Closure: waste landfills

The Commission has decided to close a case concerning three landfills at Torreblanca (Málaga, Andalucía), Santalla (León) and Sa Roca (Ibiza), following measures undertaken by the Spanish authorities to comply with an earlier judgement of the Court of 12 June 2003 (Case C-446/01) (see IP/05/417).

Environmental impact assessment: Madrid M-30 ring road project

The Commission has sent Spain a first written warning for having breached the 1985 Directive[2] on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment. The requirements of this directive have not been met as far as the M-30 ring-road project around Madrid is concerned. This project of the Town Hall of Madrid aims to modify the old ring-road and develop important urban development projects along the new ring-road, close to the Manzanares River, for a total cost of € 4,000 million.

This macro-project, one of the most important of its kind in Europe at present, should have undergone a formal and global environmental impact procedure. Instead, it was split into 19 smaller projects which have not been subject to a complete impact assessment procedure. The Commission's view was confirmed by an ECJ judgement in another case (Case 332/04) on 16 March 2006, which stated that Spain had not correctly transposed the environmental impact assessment directive as far as urban development projects are concerned.

It should be noted that the Commission does not question the necessity, the design or the importance of this project for the city of Madrid.  Nevertheless, the requirements of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive must be complied with. This Directive requires major infrastructure projects to be assessed for their impact before they are approved in order to avoid or minimise environmental damage and nuisances. It also provides for public consultation.

Environmental impact assessment: tourist project in the Natural Park Cabo de Gata-Nijar (Almeria, Andalucia)

The Commission has sent Spain a first written warning for not having undertaken an environmental impact assessment before authorising an urban and tourist complex project. The project is situated in the "El Algarrobico" beach, in the protected nature area of Cabo de Gata-Nijar (province of Almería, Andalucía) which is part of the EU's Natura 2000 network. It is made up of several urban developments, including a 17-storey hotel. The likely effects of the project on this important protected area have not been assessed, nor have protective measures been taken to safeguard the relevant ecological interests of the site, as required by the Habitats Directive[3].  

Environmental impact assessment: urban development project of Las Atalayas (Peñíscola, Castellón) 

The Commission has sent Spain a first written warning for not having carried out an impact assessment of an urban development project situated in a nature area protected in the framework of the EU's Natura 2000 network. The project is called "Las Atalayas" and is located in the municipality of Peñíscola (province of Castellón, Valencian Community).

Moreover, the Spanish authorities have not taken the protective measures needed to guarantee the safeguard of the site’s ecological value after the project is executed.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:


For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:



[1]    Directive 92/43/EEC. The Habitats Directive establishes the Natura 2000 network which consists of Special Areas of Conservation designated by Member States and incorporates Special Protection Areas designated by the Member States under the Wild Birds Directive (Directive 79/409/EEC).

[2]    Directive 85/337/EEC on environmental impact assessments, which was modified in 1997 by directive 97/11/EC.

[3]    Directive 92/43/EEC.



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