Italy has been told to tackle the waste crisis in Naples immediately or face EU action.
The commission says it could take urgent action if it wanted
What does the EU say?
The noises from the European Commission suggest Italy is languishing in the last chance saloon.
The Environment Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, has called for "concrete and immediate measures to resolve the situation, keeping the needs of public health and the environment in mind".
The Italian Vice President of the Commission, Franco Frattini, went on national television to state that a definitive decision on legal action would be taken by the end of January. To that effect, the commission will meet government officials in Rome at the end of the month.
Is Rome sending in the troops not enough?
No. As long as there is no effective system to deal with the waste in the long term, the EU says it will not be satisfied. The Naples waste mountains disappeared after a crisis in June 2007, but then they returned.
What has the EU done so far?
At the time of the June crisis, the European Commission sent the Italian government a written warning, a "letter of formal notice", that it was violating the EU's Waste Framework Directive.
That legislation requires countries to act to prevent uncontrolled dumping of waste and protect human health and the environment. The commission decided that Italy had "failed to fulfil its obligations".
Why is it taking the EU so long?
Italy is being given a chance to solve the problem before the EU resorts to punitive measures.
An Italian response followed the first EU letter; then came a second letter of formal notice saying it had made some progress, but not enough.
The commission appears to be close to sending the Italian government "a reasoned opinion", a final written warning which would give Rome up to two months to rectify the problem or defend the case in the European Court of Justice.
What have the Italians done to solve the crisis?
They believe the problem will be resolved by four landfill sites and two incinerators in the Campania region. One of the incinerators is due to open in 2008, the other by 2010. The landfill sites already exist but the commission has so far been unhappy that they are being handled properly.
Which EU rules may Italy be violating?
The Waste Framework Directive came into effect in 2006. Its key provisions are:
To protect human health and environment against harmful effects "caused by the collection, transport, treatment, storage and tipping of waste". Waste movement should be reduced and the community as a whole should become self-sufficient in waste disposal. It is "desirable" that member states should aim for self-sufficiency.Recovery of waste should be encouraged and member states should restrict the production of waste by promoting clean technologies and promoting products that can be recycled and reused.
What sanctions does the EU have?
The European Court of Justice can impose fines on governments. The European Commission can also withhold regional funding and its vice president, Franco Frattini, has indicated that may happen. In this case, money already earmarked for the Campania region for waste disposal projects could be under threat.
Have other countries broken EU rules on waste?
More than 20 EU states, including the UK, have been warned they are not complying with the Landfill Directive (1999), which again focuses on human health and the environment. Its key provisions are:
To prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects of landfill sites on water, soil and air as well as emissions of methane. To ensure landfill operators are adequately monitored. Bans used tyres, liquid waste and certain hazardous wastes from landfill.To cut biodegredable waste going to landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2016.