One of the most contentious aspects of EU policy is compliance with European legislation. Every year, directives and regulations approved by the EU have to be implemented in Member States’ national legislation. If these nations fail to comply, so-called infringement procedures are triggered, which can lead to sanctions of increasing severity.
With new data from InfringEye , realized together with the European data journalism network , we analyze developments in infringement procedures. Since the beginning of the year, a total of 165 procedures have been opened. Five of these (3 percent) have been launched against Italy. This would seem to be a positive outcome: only Ireland (1), Denmark (2), Croatia, Latvia and Holland (4) have performed better than Italy in 2021.
The procedures still open against Italy come to 82 in total. This puts Italy in seventh place among the countries with the greatest difficulty complying with European law. Compared to our last update , however, Italy’s position has improved: in November 2020 the country faced 85 pending procedures, and took fourth place in the aforementioned ranking. These results can be attributed to the Conte II government, which has managed to reverse the trend that persisted during the so-called gialloverde government (shared between the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s Lega).
How infringement procedures work
So what are infringement procedures, and how do they work? EU member states have a duty to bring their domestic legislation into line with EU regulations. The European Commission is responsible for ensuring that this happens. When a member state fails to fully transpose an EU directive within the prescribed period, or when regulations are incorrectly applied, the commission can initiate a formal infringement procedure.
The two articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) that govern this process are 258 and 260. Procedures can be opened in a number of ways. In addition to internal investigations carried out by the commission, citizens, companies and non-governmental organizations can report the failure of a state to comply with EU regulations.
There are three reasons that can lead to the launch of an infringement procedure:
- Non-communication: when the member state fails to punctually communicate the measures chosen in order to implement the directive;
- Non-implementation: when the European Commission considers the legislation of the member state to be inconsistent with EU law;
- Misapplication: When EU law is not applied or is applied incorrectly by the member state.
This initiates litigation against the member state, on the part of the Commission. Brussels can require the member state to comply with EU regulations by a certain date. If this does not happen, the commission can decide to appeal to the European Court of Justice. If, despite the court’s ruling, the country in question still fails to rectify the situation, the commission can take the country to court again, this time under TFEU Article 260 .
At this point in the dispute, the court can also impose economic sanctions against the member state. These sanctions are no trifle: according to the annual report of the court of auditors , in 2019 Italy has had to pay over 655 million euros in penalties since 2012.
Infringement procedures opened since the start of 2021
Despite the fact that we are still in the early months of the year, there are already 165 new infringement procedures in 2021. As of 17 March, total procedures currently underway now amount to 1821. Among the countries facing the highest number of new infringements are Poland and Cyprus with 10, Bulgaria and Belgium with 9, and Romania with 8.
As mentioned above, Italy faces five new infringement procedures, along with Estonia, Finland and Hungary. Italy’s performance in this regard ranks among the best, beating France and Germany, with six new infringement procedures each, and Spain, with 7.