Last week, Kassandra looked at the overall disquieting situation of inefficient waste management practices in South-eastern Europe. Among the worst offenders are the two island states of Cyprus and Malta. Worse, those two member states systematically find themselves placed at the very bottom of any ranking, be that municipal waste recycling, landfill disposal or secondary use and utilisation of waste.  Why would Cyprus and Malta matter, one wonders? Given their comparatively small land surface and population, and by extension, their cumulative waste production in absolute numbers, would not the impact of their criminal inefficiency be insignificant when one looks at the bigger European picture? It could be, but that is not how the European Union acquis works: the uniform application of the European body of law has been envisioned to first protect the Cypriots and the Maltese, not the European cumulus or average. It is to their own people those states are doing a disfavour to. It is individuals and communities the European authorities should be striving to defend, not statistical aggregations.

The extent of the problem in those two countries has been beyond what is manageable for some time now. Malta and Cyprus produce 647 and 640 kilos of municipal waste per capita per year respectively, coming only second and third to Denmark, where each person produces 777 kilos in a single year, compared to an EU average of 482.

The fact that Denmark is placed first, with Germany coming fourth, could has been repeatedly used as an argument by the Cyprus and Malta against their exceptionality. However, that ignores the reality: municipal waste production is positively correlated to the wealth, that is why Denmark ranks first. In the case of Cyprus and Malta, that statistic is augmented by tourism, rather than income levels. Is that an excuse? Quite the contrary: landfill disposal in Denmark is limited to only 1%, compared to 86% in Malta, the highest in the European Union, and 76% in Cyprus, placed third after Greece. What does that mean? Denmark has prepared efficiently enough to be able to mitigate the impact of this negative record. Cyprus and Malta have not only failed to put in place an effective waste management strategy, but they have also failed to come up with a sustainable development plan for their main industry, tourism.

One wonders how those two member states will achieve the target of landfilling of municipal waste set by the European Commission, which stands at a maximum of 10% by 2030, when their current numbers are eight times higher. The European authorities have targeted landfill sites in both countries, mainly by initiating infringement proceedings that usually result in the imposition of hefty fines. However, the daily cost of such measures can be significantly lower than the investment required to replace the sites, and subsequently, the practice, which eventually means that inefficiency is turned into nothing less than a cost accounted for in the books. In other words, in the absence of any other more effective measures on the side of the European Union, it is cheaper to pollute than to recycle. What is the answer that the European Commission has to this very real systemic failure?

Focusing on municipal waste only reveals a small part of the picture, given that it only accounts for 8% of overall waste production in the European Union. A staggering 34% of the total comes from construction. Given the rapid growth of the construction sector in both those countries, largely thanks to tourism, would an investigation further reveal an additional failure, that of holding the construction sector accountable? Is the construction boom environmentally accountable and sustainable? Has the European Commission asked that question?

As Kassandra revealed last week, absorption rates of EU funds that aim to tackle such issues are equally disappointing. When it comes to the 2014-2020 financing cycle, in the first five years, only 28% of the total amount available under the Environment Protection & Resource Efficiency budgetary category was spent in Malta, out of the 84% allocated to specific programmes, with the rest of 16% yet to be assigned to specific programmes with two years to go until the end of the cycle. In Cyprus, 25% was spent out of 44% of the funds allocated to specific programmes, with 56% yet to be assigned. This reveals a fourth systemic failure: the lack of an effective strategy when it comes to utilisation of EU funds.

As shown above, the problem is far more complex than even targeted infringement proceedings, which are usually launched again unitary sites, can address. What is the European Commission’s strategy? Does this mean that not only Cyprus and Malta have failed, but also the all-powerful European institution as well?