Urban Waste Water: Commission decides to refer Slovenia to the European Court of Justice over waste water treatment

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The European Commission has decided today to refer Slovenia to the European Court of Justice for failure to comply with the requirements of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Directive 91/271/EEC). The Directive requires Member States to ensure that urban agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their waste waters, thus eliminating or reducing all their undesirable effects.

The European Green Deal steers the EU towards a Zero Pollution ambition. Full implementation of the standards enshrined in EU legislation is important to effectively protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.

Slovenia should have been fully compliant with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requirements since 2016, according to its agreements under the Accession Treaty. However, four agglomerations with a population of over 10 000 (Ljubljana, Trbovlje, Kočevje, and Loka) do not comply with such requirements because urban waste water entering collecting systems is not subject to the appropriate level of treatment before being discharged.

In addition, the agglomerations Kočevje, Trbovlje, and Loka fail to meet additional requirements of the Directive related to sensitive areas, as urban waste water entering collecting systems is not subject to more stringent treatment before being discharged into those areas.

The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the Slovenian authorities in February 2017, followed by a reasoned opinion in 2019. Although the Slovenian authorities have shared monitoring data aimed to show compliance with the requirements of the Directive, the deficiencies and gaps therein identified lead the Commission to conclude that the authorities have failed to prove compliance for the above-mentioned agglomerations.

Therefore, the Commission is referring Slovenia to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Background

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that their towns, cities and settlements properly collect and treat waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful chemicals, bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

The Commission published in September 2020 the 10th report on the implementation of the Directive that showed an overall improvement in collection and treatment of waste water in Europe’s cities and towns, but pointed to different success levels between the Member States.

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