ROME (Reuters) - EU inspectors touring the rubbish-strewn streets of Naples said on Monday that Italy had failed to make good on pledges to solve the city's chronic garbage crisis and warned EU funds would be frozen until it did.
More than 10,000 tones of trash have piled up in and around Italy's third biggest city as available dumps are near saturation point, and the only existing incinerator is still not working at full capacity.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government was forced to scrap plans for a new landfill near Naples without an alternative solution after a month-long protest by residents complaining an existing site had led to a foul stench and toxic waste being dumped near their houses.
Berlusconi pledged last month to solve the latest emergency within days, but TV images of Neapolitans holding their noses or covering their faces as they walk past shoulder-high mounds of trash provide stark evidence the crisis has grown worse.
"Two years on (from the latest crisis) the situation has not changed much. Garbage is in the streets, and there is no plan for separate waste collection and disposal," said Pia Bucella, head of a team of European Union inspectors visiting the city.
She said Brussels, which has already taken legal action to force Rome to find a long-term solution, would not unblock some 145 million euros ($199 million) of EU funds destined for garbage projects until a proper waste disposal system was in place.
"We are in favor of freeing up the EU funds, but only when a plan will be not only adopted but also implemented," she said.
With Berlusconi's struggling center-right government facing a no confidence motion next month which could trigger early elections, the lingering Naples rubbish crisis has become a serious embarrassment.
The garbage scandal, which contributed to the downfall of Berlusconi's center-left predecessor, is the result of years of political ineptitude, corruption and the influence of the local mafia, the Camorra.
Berlusconi, who often cites clearing Naples streets shortly after coming to power in 2008 as one of his government's main successes, has blamed local politicians for the problems, but angry protesters have ripped into him bitterly.
Political rivalries within his People of Freedom party are complicating the situation, with Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna threatening to quit at the weekend over how the garbage crisis was being handled by fellow party members.
On Thursday, the government pledged 150 million euros and said it would speed up the construction of incinerators in the Campania region of which Naples is the capital.
But the government decree lacked details on how the crisis would be tackled in the short term, and on Monday President Giorgio Napolitano said he had yet to receive the text of the decree, which he must sign off before it comes into force. (Additional reporting by Laura Viggiano; Editing by Jan Harvey)