Take Out the Trash, Or Else...

The European Union is taking Italy to court for failing to end a garbage crisis that has left the city of Naples strewn with waste and is posing an early challenge for incoming Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The European Commission said on Tuesday it was not convinced that efforts made in the run-up to an April 13-14 general election were enough to end the crisis Italians blamed on political mismanagement and organised crime.

"We are taking Italy to court over its handling of the waste management crisis in the Campania region," an official at the Commission, the EU's executive arm, told reporters.

"We note that proposals are being made by Italy to improve the situation, but on the basis of the timetable given, the Commission is not convinced that this issue will be solved quickly enough."

Brussels gave Italy a final warning in January that it risked being taken to the European Court of Justice over the case. Italy faces the possibility of heavy fines if the Luxembourg-based court rules in favour of the Commission.

Refuse collection in Naples and the surrounding Campania region was halted around Christmas when almost every dump was declared full and hundreds of tonnes of rubbish piled up in the streets, triggering a health crisis.

Outgoing centre-left Prime Minister Romano Prodi appointed former police chief Gianni De Gennaro as trash tsar in January, but despite cleaning up the city's historic centre, he has not yet managed to clear up the wider region or deliver a long-term solution to the problem.

LEFTIST INCOMPETENCE

A large incinerator, designed to produce electricity using garbage as fuel, has been built near Naples but has yet to open.

"The work on this (incinerator) has moved very slow, too slow," the Commission official said. "But we hope the new Italian government will move to make this happen very quickly as it will go a long way to solving part of the problem."

This week locals blocked a rubbish dump and set fire to trash piles in a northern suburb of Naples.

Berlusconi has said he will make the Naples crisis a top priority and plans to hold one of his first cabinet meetings in the southern port city soon after taking office later this week.

A media tycoon who heads the centre-right People of Freedom Party which won the election, Berlusconi has often said the trash emergency was due to leftist political incompetence.

The local government is run by the centre left, but Berlusconi's critics say he shares some of the blame for the problem as he did nothing to solve it during a five-year term as prime minister in 2001-2006.

Part of Naples's problem is that organised crime groups have made illegal waste disposal an industry that was worth 5.8 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in 2006, according to a study by conservation group Legambiente.

Italy also received a warning on Tuesday for non-compliance with a previous ECJ ruling on the way rubbish was collected in the Rome region of Lazio and elsewhere in the country.

"In relation to Lazio, the Commission is issuing a further warning since that region has not put forward its plan as laid out by the ECJ last year," the EU official said.

(Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy in Rome; editing by Dale Hudson; editing by Sami Aboudi)

1515 060508 GMTMX05-06-2008 15:15UTC / (ZE.lon-reu.01b.am-nyny-inwcp01) /

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