The European Commission is unsatisfied with Estonia's performance in establishing wastewater treatment systems complying with EU requirements and the country may be faced with a fine if appropriate action is not taken, daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) said.
The Ministry of the Environment was reminded by Brussels in early June that in late December 2016, Estonia was issued a formal warning to take prompt action regarding the establishment of wastewater systems. In its next move, the Commission issued a reasoned opinion, which is likewise the final step before taking the matter to court.
According to the Commission's notice, authorities in Estonia have yet to ensure proper municipal wastewater treatment in seven communities and authorities in Cyprus in 36 communities.
"The Commission sent a letter of formal notice in December 2016," the Commission said on 7 June. "As in both cases compliance with EU rules is not expected in the near future, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to Cyprus and Estonia to speed up their efforts. If the two countries fail to act within two months, the cases may be referred to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU)."
The Commission likewise decided to send a letter of formal notice to Romania for its failure to comply with EU rules on urban wastewater treatment.
The Commission's notice to Estonia concerns seven communities: Aruküla, Narva-Jõesuu, Kärdla, Muraste, Türisalu, Vääna-Jõesuu and Keila. These communities include a combined total of some 11,500 households, approximately 6,700 of which have not joined the municipal wastewater collection system.
The EU allocated €630 million in the last fiscal period and €140 million in the current fiscal period to Estonia for compliance with wastewater treatment requirements.
"The use of the money to update the wastewater system, however, depends on the initiative of municipalities and local water services companies as well as their ability to draw up projects and apply for unding," said Raili Kärmas, adviser at the Water Department of the Ministry of the Environment.
As it is not possible to link up approximately 6,700 households to the wastewater treatment system right away, the Ministry of the Environment is seeking possibilities to negotiate with the Commission.
Namely, EU requirements would also be fulfilled if wastewater from homes not linked up to the wastewater treatment system was collected into leakproof tanks and transported from there to wastewater treatment facilities. The ministry is currently seeking the relevant statistics from the municipalities.
While it is unknown how large a fine the Commission may issue Estonia, EPL observed that in previous similar cases, the fine has ranged from €3-10 million in addition to a penalty of €4,700-20,000 per day until all requirements have been met.
Editor: Aili Vahtla