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Legal issues: Protecting Europe's environment

Built up over decades, EU environmental legislation now includes more than 200 pieces of law. The focus is on improving implementation. The task of the Commission is to manage the complexities of this comprehensive body of law, while responding to public awareness of environmental problems and the community’s enlargement.

Much of the legislation comes in the form of directives, which must be transposed into national law. After checking this transposition, the Commission has a range of tools at its disposal to ensure that these laws work effectively. These include reports, performance scorecards, guidance documents, and community funds that can be used to build facilities or promote environmentally friendly initiatives. The Commission also sets up networks to share experience of implementation and cooperates with networks of national judges, who play a key role in applying EU laws.

The Commission can also take legal action in the case of infringements of environmental law, including failures to notify national implementing laws, serious defects in these laws, failures to comply with judgments by the European Court of Justice, and breaches linked to serious environmental quality problems. These infringement proceedings may mean that Member States are taken to court, and may ultimately involve fines and other financial penalties.

Legal issues – EU environment website