BRUSSELS, Belgium --The European Commission sued nine EU nations on Thursday for not enacting European law that holds polluters liable for the environmental damage they cause.
The commission began the legal action in the European Court of Justice against Austria, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Britain and the Brussels region of Belgium, saying they failed to incorporate the EU's 2004 "polluter-pays" law into their national legislation.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement the "EU's Environmental Liability Directive implements the polluter-pays principle and is one of the most significant new pieces of EU environmental law of the last few years."
The directive covers damage done to protected species, natural habitats, water bodies and soil, and uses the polluter-pays principle as an incentive to make industries and others more environment conscious.
The 2004 EU law holds that "when damage to the environment is not remedied (by the polluter), the costs associated with it are borne by society as a whole."
The deadline for enacting the EU act was April 2007. Under EU law, the European Commission can take legal action against laggards, who face hefty fines.
In recent years, the EU has become more assertive in environmental protection.
Last year, the EU's executive proposed additional rules that would widen the use of criminal charges, rather than civil law, against companies and individuals found responsible for environmental disasters. Under the proposal, serious offenses could be punished with up to five years in prison or a euro750,000 (US$1.2 million) fine.
The proposal needs to be approved by the European Parliament and EU governments.