Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Belgium Owes $13M for Failed Sewer Upgrades

(CN) - After not complying with a 2004 court order to upgrade sewer treatment plants across Belgium, the tiny kingdom must pay $13.66 million, the EU's high court ruled.

Regulators originally took Belgium to court over its failure to comply with a 1991 EU wastewater treatment directive. In that case, the Court of Justice of the European Union found upgrade failures in 114 facilities in the Flemish region, 60 in Walloon and the entire system in Brussels had not been properly upgraded.

The court ordered Belgium - home to most of the EU's government - to fix the problems by 2009. Inspectors with the European Commission nevertheless uncovered continued violations at 22 facilities and in its capital city of Brussels, bringing the nation to court once again in 2011.

Though Belgium had repaired all but five facilities by the date of the hearing, and the United Kingdom told the court in an amicus brief that the commission sets unreasonable deadlines on public works projects of this magnitude, it found little leniency in Thursday's ruling.

"It must be stated that the infringement established by the judgment in Commission v Belgium persisted for approximately nine years, which is excessive, even if it must be recognized that the tasks to be carried out required a significant period of several years and that compliance with that judgment must be regarded as substantial, or almost complete," the Luxembourg-based court wrote, also noting that Belgium had declared itself an environmentally sensitive area years before.

"The Kingdom of Belgium has recognized the need for increased environmental protection on its territory," the court continued. "The lack of treatment for urban waste water constitutes damage to the environment."

In addition to a $13.66 million lump fine, the court ordered Belgium to pay a penalty of more than $2.3 million for every year it takes to finally comply with the 2004 order beginning today.

"However, in view of the continuing progress towards full compliance with the judgment in Commission v Belgium which is also recognized by the commission, it is not impossible that the judgment will have been fully complied with by the date of delivery of this judgment," the court wrote. "Accordingly, the penalty payment will be imposed only if the infringement is continuing on the date of delivery of this judgment."

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