Named and shamed

20-08-2013
The city of Palma, which was last year described as “dirty” by the majority of the population, is one of 18 Spanish cities pumping raw or inadequately treated sewage into their rivers, breaching EU environmental rules that they agreed to years ago, the European Commission revealed yesterday. In an effort to “name and shame” countries and local authorities into implementing a 10-year-old EU law on water treatment, the Commission listed 37 large cities that dump sewage directly into rivers or the sea. Palma, Brussels and Milan were among cities of more than 150'000 people that the Commission - the EU's executive arm - said are polluting rivers and seas with raw sewage. Britain, Spain, Portugal and Italy topped the Commission's list of countries with the most large cities pumping raw sewage into the environment. Germany and France have yet to supply data saying how many of their cities break the rules. The North, Baltic and Adriatic seas were all suffering to a “worrying” degree from excessive sewage, the Commission said. Effluent in rivers and seas poses a direct health risk to bathers and upsets the sea's ecological balance. “The environment of the EU would look different if legislation was enforced in member states,” EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in a statement. EU governments agreed in 1991 to rules setting minimum standards for urban waste-water treatment. The Commission held its “name and shame” seminar on waste water yesterday, the first of a number of such meetings planned by Wallstrom. The Commission can take countries to court if they breach EU laws, but the legal process takes years and financial penalties can only be imposed after two lengthy court cases. Wallstrom hopes her new approach will spur governments to act and show an example to central and eastern European countries waiting to join the EU. Their environmental standards often lag behind the EU's. “Member states are setting a bad example and sending a deplorable message to the candidate countries which are being criticised for not transposing EU environmental legislation quickly enough,” she added. The countries lining up to join the 15-nation bloc have, in theory, to put all existing EU directives into their own national law before joining. In last year's survey of Palma residents the main concerns were waste and rubbish from building sites and dog excrement. No members of the general public expressed concerns over the quality of sewage treatment and the EU report will bring the city council under even greater pressure from opposition parties to clean up its act and the capital.

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