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The garbage crisis in Naples and the role of the EU

GARBAGE PILING UP AGAIN – Since the beginning of May, the garbage has started to pile up again in Naples and the surrounding towns.

The Government has sent again the army to help collecting the garbage, and bringing it to the dumps.

THE POSITION OF THE EU – A situation that was predictable, at least according to representative of the EU, which has sanctioned Italy in the past for the garbage crisis in Naples and for not being able to set up a proper waste managment plan in the city.

Two months ago I have interviewed MEP Judith Merkies and the spokesman for the EU Commissioner for the Environment about that. In the following article, you can find their opinions on the garbage crisis and the role of the EU in it.


(London, 10 march 2011) –

NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST ITALY – On the 3rd of February 2011, the European Parliament has approved a resolution against Italy that freezes all the structural funds to that Country until a proper waste managment plan will be operative in Naples and the surrounding Campania region.
The decision came after a major garbage crisis took place in winter, during which tons of uncollected garbage piled up in the streets week after week, and the Italian government led by Silvio Berlusconi decided to send the army to repress the citizens, who protested against the building of new damps in places such as Chiaiano and Terzigno on the outskirts of Naples.

TWENTY YEARS OF GARBAGE CRISIS – This resolution of the Parliament, put forward by the liberals (ALDE), the leftists (GUE/NGL), the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the Greens/European Free Alliance groups is the last of a series of action taken at different levels by EU institutions against Italy over the garbage problem. This issue started in the late Nineties, and so far has remained unsolved by the local Italian authorities becoming also a major test for the Eu institutions and their power over member States: “The waste crisis in Naples must be considered as a European matter and as a test-case for the efficiency of the complex and long-standing EU waste regulation” says MEP Judith Merkies (S&D), which in April 2010 led a EU Parliament delegation in Campania. The delegation went there immediately after the European Court of Justice , in March 2010, had sentenced that Italy had failed to set up a proper waste managment plan in Campania, and ruled that the Country had to act immediately to change the situation. “We basically found that there is no proper waste cycle in Campania. There is no complete cycle of separate collection, composting, recycling, reuse” continues Merkies.

EU INSTITUTIONS AGAINST ITALY – Following that mission, the Parliamentary delegation has put pressure on the EU Commissioner for the Environment Janecz Potocnick to take measures against Italy. In the meantime, the Parliament approved this latest resolution against Italy, voted by 374 MEPs against 208.
The group that mostly opposed the resolution was the centrist EPP (European’s People’s Party, to which Berlusconi’s Party belongs), which proposed 17 amendments to that resolution. Italian MEP Erminia Mazzoni is part of that group: “ This resolution has followed a path that doesn’t normally happen in the Eu institutions. A path that I would defined persecutory against Italy. Because instead of helping us to solve the problem, the Eu is punishing Italy with yet another measure on top of all the other sanctions that have been taken so far”.

THE SENTENCE OF THE COURT OF JUSTICE – Beside the Parliamentary action, the EU Commission for the Environment is also committed in making Italy resolve the garbage problem: “We have told the Italian authorities very clearly what we need to be done” says the spokesman for the Commissioner, Joe Hennon. “They have asked us for advice and assistance, which we have given to them”. But in October 2010, inspectors of the Commissioner were sent to Campania to evaluate the situation, and they found that nothing had changed since the sentence of the Court of Justice in March: “The problem is still there, and needs to be resolved. The Italian government is aware of this” continues Hennon. “There should be a coherent waste managment plan in place. Clearly there is not. Italy needs to implement the judgement of the Court”.

BUT THE PROBLEM IS STILL THERE – For Judith Merkies, though, the Commission has been too soft: “In the past decisions of the Court were not implemented also for lack of pressure by the EU Commission. The ruling alone has had little effect, but by continuing pressure and ensuring that Europe is scrutinizing Italy’s progress, this should have an effect on the Authorities. The Court ruling requires a decisive action and follow-up by the European Institutions. Indeed we have to always remember that in Campania most EU directives are not correctly implemented”.

AN OBSOLETE WASTE CYCLE – One of the things that worries the most the Parliament, about the garbage crisis, is the decision of the Italian government to open landfills to get rid of the garbage: “The present waste cycle relies heavily on landfills and incineration” says Merkies. “While both landfills and waste incinerators are in use elsewhere in the EU, they should not be seen as the solution to waste management. A very energetic effort is required to diminish their share and tip the balance towards waste reduction and recycling, by providing the adequate infrastructure”. On the same positions is the EU Commission for the Environment: ““In most Countries we are moving away from damps and landfills. The actions taken by the Italian goverment so far are breaching the law” says Hennon. For that reason, the Commission is considering its own sactions: “We are prepared to help them if we can help them, and we are also prepared to take them back to Court if that is what’s necessary” confirms Hennon. “Our main interest here is the Italian citizens, because you have got a situation there where you have got a danger for public health and for the environment, so what we want to see now is both short term measures and long term measures”.

VIOLATING RULES IN THE NAME OF URGENCY – For Merkies, the problem lyes in the abuse of the concept of urgency made by the Italian govenrment: “The reasons for the waste crisis in Campania are to be found the failure of the idea that European and national rules on the management of the waste cycle can be systematically violated in name of urgency, a long standing bad organisation and governance by authorities at all levels and on a wrong approach at waste altogether, which considers that landfills and incineration are the best suitable answer”.

A CHALLENGE FOR THE FUTURE – Now, the challenge for Italy will be that of building a proper system of waste managment, and try to avoid new sanctions. The Environmental Commission is currently assessing the plan presented in January by the Italian govermnent, while the Parliament is planning to send other delegations to Campania: “Members of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee will be visiting Campania and Calabria within the next few months to assess the waste management crisis from an environmental perspective” confirms Merkies. “In the Petitions Committee we are working on a follow-up fact finding mission to Campania. We don’t want to leave the petitioners with an unresolved crisis. We want to see the improvements promised by ourselves and we will be sure to include a waste sorting plant on our list of improvements to be visited”.

EU STRUGGLING TO IMPOSE COHERENT RULES – Whether petitions, fact-finding missions and sanctions will be effective on a long-standing problem such as the waste in Campania remains to be seen. What is sure is that from a European point of view, this story contributes to enlighten the struggle existing between EU institutions, and their difficulty on imposing coherent policies to the member States of the Union.

  1. Joan Rojas
    June 8, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Do you know, where the offcial report (European union inspectors in campania) are published?

    • beatricebedeschi
      June 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Information about how the investigation on garbage in Naples is going on can be found on the EU Parliament website and by contacting directly members of the delegation that went to Campania last year, such as Judith Merkies.

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