EC's Infringement Proceedings against Bulgaria on Free Movement of Goods, Environmental Matters, Transport
In its latest package of infringement decisions published on Thursday, the European Commission (EC) urges Bulgaria to ensure the proper application of EU law in several areas, including free movement of goods, environmental matters and transport. At the same time, the EC has decided to close the infringement proceedings against Bulgaria concerning the assignment of digital terrestrial television (DTT) frequencies.
Free movement of goods and freedom of establishment
The EC has decided to send a letter of formal notice to Bulgaria regarding discriminatory measures imposed on retailers, obliging them to favour domestic food products. Bulgarian law obliges retailers to offer distinct exposure and sale space for domestic food products, such as milk, fish, fresh meat and eggs, honey, fruits and vegetables, and to purchase 90 per cent of milk and dairy products from domestic producers. Such obligations restrict the free movement of goods, enshrined in Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), as it creates more advantageous and competitive marketing conditions for domestic food products, discriminating against similar imported products. It further restricts the freedom of establishment under Article 49 of the TFEU, in restricting the freedom of retailers to decide on their assortment, on the lay out of their sales surface, and to adapt their supply chain.
According to the Commission, such restrictions may only be justified by overriding reasons of general interest, such as public health, and must be suitable and necessary for attaining that objective. Due to the extraordinary circumstances due to the coronavirus sanitary situation and the weakening of EU economies, it is imperative to preserve the free movement of goods and the freedom of establishment.
Bulgaria has one month to reply to the concerns raised by the European Commission. Without a satisfactory response, the EC may decide to send to Bulgaria a reasoned opinion.
Access to justice in environmental matters
The EC calls on Bulgaria and one more Member State to remove barriers to access to justice for citizens and environmental organisations in relation to air quality plans. Neither of the two countries has ensured that natural or legal persons directly concerned by exceedances of the air pollution limits under Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, are allowed to bring an action before the national courts. Environmental organisations and natural or legal persons in these two Member States are currently not allowed to challenge the consistency of an air quality plan and to require public authorities to establish air quality plans as the Directive requires.
Urban Waste Water
The European Commission is urging Bulgaria and three more Member States to ensure that urban waste water is adequately collected and treated, as required by Directive 91/271/EEC. The Directive protects both water quality and human health by requiring that Member States collect and treat their urban waste water before it is discharged into the environment. For agglomerations of 2,000 people or more, the treatment requires not only elimination of solid matter but also the breaking down of the organic substances by using bacteria.
Bulgaria fails to provide a collecting system in 48 big agglomerations, in 69 big agglomerations it fails to ensure that the urban waste water entering collecting systems is subject to appropriate treatment, and in 71 big agglomerations Bulgaria does not ensure that the urban waste water entering collecting systems and discharging into sensitive areas is subject to more stringent treatment. All these agglomerations should have been compliant by December 31, 2010, the EC recalls.
The Commission has sent letters of formal notice to Bulgaria, nine more Member States and the United Kingdom for having applied incorrectly rules on road safety related traffic information. Access to road safety related traffic data is key to improving safety on European roads and providing information services to road users. This legislation requires Member States to make such data available for exchange and reuse through single, national access points.
The EC has sent letters of formal notice to Bulgaria, six more Member States and the United Kingdom as they have applied EU rules on the provision of EU wide real-time traffic information services incorrectly. Real-time traffic information services help reduce congestion, air pollution and noise stemming from transport. It is also key to producing up-to-date and accurate digital maps, which are crucial for smart mobility applications.
The European Commission also has sent letters of formal notice to Bulgaria and nine more Member States for having applied EU rules on the provision of EU-wide multimodal travel information services incorrectly. Travellers in Europe often lack door-to-door travel information. This is why Member States are required to establish national access points that make multimodal travel information accessible. Ultimately, multimodal travel information services will help provide travellers with an overview of all travel options available to them, while highlighting the most sustainable ones.
The EC has decided to send letters of formal notice to Bulgaria, six more Member States and the United Kingdom for failing to communicate information on safe and secure parking. More specifically, these Member States failed to make digitally available, through National Access Points, information related to parking places (e.g. location of parking areas and available facilities and amenities) as well as to parking places providing dynamic information. Truck drivers in Europe are often confronted with insufficient parking facilities and information on such facilities, and therefore often park in non-secured zones or unsafe locations.
Single European Sky
The European Commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to Bulgaria and ten more Member States for failing to provide and operate data link services for all operators of aircraft flying within airspace under their responsibility, and which are capable of data link communications. Data link services are communications between aircraft and ground that are conveyed through data links, complementing the voice communications used traditionally within air traffic control. The deployment of this interoperable technology in Europe is essential to improving the efficiency of communications between pilots and controllers, thereby increasing air traffic control capacity.
The deadline for providers of air traffic services to provide and operate data link services expired on February 5, 2018. A lack of equipment in certain control centres is effectively preventing aircraft operators from using data link services, for which the operators have been required to equip as of February 5, 2020, the Commission notes.
The EC has decided to send letters of formal notice to Bulgaria and nine more Member States as they have failed to designate a 'just culture body' in accordance with Regulation (EU) No 376/2014. The European Commission invites the Member States to comply fully with the relevant EU rules.
The countries concerned now have four months to reply to the letter of formal notice; In the absence of a satisfactory response, the EC may decide to send a reasoned opinion. Should they fail to take appropriate action, the Commission may decide to refer them to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Assignment of DTT frequencies
The European Commission has decided to close the infringement proceedings against Bulgaria and Italy concerning the assignment of DTT frequencies as they have taken steps to address the Commission's concerns regarding their compliance with the Competition Directive (2002/77/EC), Authorisation Directive (2002/20/EC) and Framework Directive (2002/21/EC). In 2013, the EC referred Bulgaria to the EU's Court of Justice. In 2015, the Court confirmed the Commission's findings. Both Italy and Bulgaria took steps to address the Commission's concerns, including an amendment to the legislation at issue and the withdrawal of one of the disputed licenses in Bulgaria. Moreover, significant changes can be expected in the DTT sector in the context of the ongoing 'reforming' process whereby Member States need to move DTT frequencies from the 700 MHz frequency band, which will be used for mobile communications.
Following a careful examination of the facts of the cases as well as relevant market, regulatory and judicial developments, the EC found that it is no longer opportune to continue the proceedings. The European Commission continues monitoring the broadcasting markets across Europe, with a view to ensuring a level playing field. The closure of these cases does not prevent the EC from opening new infringement proceedings.