Italy in the dock over wastewater failures

wastewater fine italy
Four agglomerations in Sicily still fail to treat wastewater before discharging it into the sea. Photo: Martin Thoma, Wikimedia Commons

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Italy has again been referred back to the Court of Justice of the European Union by the European Commission in a decades long flouting of the urban waste water treatment rules by the Mediterranean country.

In its first judgment in this matter – back in 2012 – the Court found that Italy had failed to fulfil its obligations for more than a hundred agglomerations. In a Court judgment of 10 April 2014 it was found that Italy had breached its obligations under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) as 41 agglomerations failed to ensure that urban waste water was adequately collected and treated.


And in May 2018 the Luxembourg Court found Italy had missed repeated deadlines to comply with ‘EU law on the collection and treatment of urban waste water’ in many areas, mainly in the country’s south. Italy was ordered to pay a lump sum of 25 million euros and a fine of more than 30 million euros for every six months of delay.

Risks to human health

On the 1st of June the Commission announced that it was referring Italy back to the Court of Justice for failing to fully comply with the 2014 Court judgment. In a statement the Commission said: “Despite significant progress made, urban waste water is still not adequately treated in five agglomerations – one in the Valle d’Aosta region [a region of northwest Italy bordered by France and Switzerland] and four in Sicily. The lack of adequate waste water treatment plants (WWTP’s) 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 waste water is discharged.”

Delay until 2027

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. Italy should have ensured compliance with the UWWTD since 31 December 1998 but, according to information from the Italian authorities, full compliance for the five agglomerations will not be reached before 2027.


In April the European Commission formally requested that Cyprus implement a 2020 ruling of the EU’s Court of Justice concerning the insufficient implementation of the UWWTD. The letter of formal notice notes the Mediterranean country’s ‘failure to swiftly and effectively implement the ruling’. To protect the environment and human health, the UWWTD requires towns and cities to collect and properly treat urban waste water before being discharged into the environment.

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