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Legal Enforcement

Complaints, petitions and other sources of infringement information

There are a number of ways in which the Commission monitors the application of Community environment law. In addition to undertaking its own studies and assessments, the Commission investigates complaints from EU citizens and organisations, petitions from the European Parliament, and questions from MEPS. The Commission can use reports submitted by Member States themselves (such reporting obligations are legal requirements under many environmental directives), as a means of detecting breaches of Community environment law as well as information generated through its own investigations.

(i) Complaints and their investigation

In September 2009, the Secretariat General of the Commission set up a system whereby complaints and enquiries are now recorded in a central registry (CHAP). After registration and assessment, the Commission then decides how best to handle these. In most cases, the Commission will need to further investigate the file. In complex cases, the Commission may need to request further clarification from the complainant. In the case of complaints concerning the bad application of one of the directives on nature protection, a special complaint form has been has been created to assist in guiding complainants in providing the sort of information the Commission would need in order to effectively assess such complaints which are often technically complex.

A special complaint form has also been created for cases concerning the Water Framework Directive.

In other cases, it maybe necessary for the Commission to take contact with the Member State concerned outside the infringement process. This can be done through the Commission writing to the Member State or through so called package meetings between officials from the Commission and the Member State concerned. Direct contact with the Member State can also be facilitated through the EU pilot scheme which the Commission launched in April 2008 to test a new problem solving mechanism involving 15 Member States: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom. This allows the Commission to refer correspondence and complaints directly to the Member State for comment and resolution. The Commission is kept informed and has the option of taking further action, also through the launching of infringement procedures, where necessary.

In 2007, the Environment Directorate General requested the registration of 103 new complaint cases in the infringement database. In 2008 this number reduced to 62, but at the same time 75 cases were sent through to Member States via the pilot scheme for investigation. In 2009, the Environment Directorate General registered 27 new complaints in the infringement database, and in the same period launched 111 investigations through the EU pilot scheme. For the new CHAP complaints and enquiries registration system, which became operational in September 2009, 145 new complaints and enquiries were registered between September and the end of 2009.

(ii) Petitions and parliamentary questions

EU citizens and organisations also have the right to petition the European Parliament raising concerns about the application of Community law. This is a right provided for under Article 227 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Petitions Committee of the European Parliament is responsible for assessing which petitions are admissible for its investigation and normally asks the Commission to investigation these on its behalf. The overall number of petitions has been growing steadily over the last years and by the end of 2009 the Environmental Directorate General was responsible for the handling 430 petition files, which is about a third of the overall petition workload of the Commission. The Environment Directorate General also receives considerable numbers of written questions from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) as well as direct correspondence raising concerns about the implementation and application of Community environmental law.