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close this bookThe Long Road to Recovery: Community Responses to Industrial Disasters (UNU, 1996, 307 p.)
close this folder4 Seveso: A paradoxical classic disaster
close this folderThe European Community's institutional response to Seveso
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Directive and its annexes
View the documentOther institutional effects of the Seveso Directive


Directives are one type of legislation issued by the European Community. Others include regulations, decisions, recommendations, and opinions. Some of these are binding on the 12 European states that make up the Community,4 while others are not. Several different units of the Community are involved in the process of legislating a directive (table 4.1).

Table 4.1 Units of the European Community involved in legislating a directive

European Community Unit



Seventeen members appointed by 12 Member State governments for four years.


Twelve representatives, one from each Member State government; presidency rotates among countries every six months.

European Parliament

Elected by peoples of the EC for five-year term according to each Member State's electoral system (518 members in 1992).

European Court of Justice

Thirteen judges appointed by agreement among Member State governments for six-year terms. Assisted by six advocates-general.

Economic and Social Committee

Assists the Council and the Commission with European Economic Community and European Atomic Energy Community matters; 189 members from various economic and social sectors.

The path for adopting a directive is as follows.5 The Commission presents a proposal to the Council. After consultation with the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee (whose opinions must be heard even if they are not strictly binding), the Council may formally adopt the proposal. After adoption, an EC directive is not immediately applicable to a Member State. Individual states must incorporate the directive into national legislation and take all the necessary measures for compliance within a specified period. Such a procedure allows for effective implementation, while respecting different juridical and administrative traditions. If a Member State fails to comply, the Commission may bring a case before the European Court of Justice.

In practice, the process of arriving at the directive on major accident hazards was long and complex. Technical and political problems required extended consultations among different parties and institutions. A proposal was finally presented by the Commission to the Council in July 1979. The required opinions of the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee were expressed in 1980 and it took two more years of further consulting and discussion before a directive was finally adopted, on 24 June 1982, 8 January 1984 being the anticipated deadline for implementation by the 10 EC Member States of that time. Directive 82/501/EEC soon became known as the Seveso Directive, despite opposition from Seveso residents, who formally complained to EC authorities in Brussels about what they perceived as an implied insult.

Before the Seveso Directive, manufacturers in different Member States were subject to obligations of varying stringency. For example, the submission of a safety report by the manufacturer responsible for a hazardous installation was not mandatory in all countries. Therefore, the Directive's main purpose was to ensure harmonization of regulations among different countries. This was achieved by establishing minimal EC requirements and permitting Member States to enforce stricter regulations. Such a general purpose is consistent with the overall EC policy on environmental health and safety matters. It is instructive to review the Directive's major components.