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EU decides to refer Italy to the Court of Justice for failing to properly treat urban wastewater

  • EU decides to refer Italy to the Court of Justice for failing to properly treat urban wastewater

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European Commission
The European Commission is the EU's executive arm. It takes decisions on the Union's political and strategic direction.

The Commission decided to refer Italy back to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to fully comply with a Court judgment of 10 April 2014 on urban wastewater treatment. At the time, the Court found that Italy had breached its obligations under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC) as 41 agglomerations failed to ensure that urban waste water is adequately collected and treated.

Despite significant progress made, urban wastewater is still not adequately treated in five agglomerations - one in the Valle d'Aosta region and four in Sicily. The lack of adequate wastewater treatment systems for these five agglomerations poses significant risks to human health, inland waters and the marine environment in the environmentally sensitive areas in which the untreated wastewater is discharged.

Despite the Letter of Formal Notice under Article 260(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU sent by the Commission to Italy on 17 May 2018, compliance has not yet been reached in the abovementioned five agglomerations. Based on the information transmitted by the Italian authorities, full compliance with the ruling of 10 April 2014 will not be reached prior to 2027. Italy should have ensured compliance with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive since 31 December 1998. This second referral to Court may result in financial penalties being imposed on Italy, taking account of the seriousness of the infringement and its duration.

Full implementation of the standards set in EU legislation is essential for the protection of human health and of the natural environment. The European Green Deal sets a Zero Pollution ambition for the EU.


The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated wastewater can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and thus presents a risk to public 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.

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