The European Commission has warned member states to improve efforts to cut spam, spyware and malicious software or face legislation.

The warning follows publication of a report that showed up to 85 percent of all e-mail received in the European Union is spam. Those findings come four years after the EU adopted anti-spam legislation in the form of the e-privacy directive.

"It is time to turn the repeated political concern about spam into concrete actions to fight spam," said commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding. If there is no improvement by this time next year, Reding said she will consider introducing new legislative measures.

She pointed to the Netherlands as an example of how the current legal regime can be used to cut spam. Holland’s spam-busting unit, known by the initials OPTA, has just five full-time staff and €570,000 (£385,000) worth of equipment, and has succeeded in cutting spam by 85 percent. “I'd like to see other countries achieving similar results through more efficient enforcement,” Reding said.

Finland was also singled out for praise. A filtering system there has cut the amount of spam to 30 percent of all e-mail, from 80 percent two years ago, the Commission said. "We encourage other countries in the Union to develop similar filtering means," said Martin Selmayr, Reding’s spokesman, at a press conference today.

The Commission is urging other countries "to lay down clear lines of responsibility to use the tools available under EU law effectively." Better co-operation with enforcement authorities from other countries, including countries outside the Union, is essential to defeat the spammers, the Commission said.

The US remains the single biggest source of spam, accounting for 22 percent of all spam received in the EU, the Commission said. China is the second largest source, accounting for 13 percent. France and South Korea rank joint third at 6 percent. The US and the EU have agreed to tackle spam through joint enforcement initiatives.

Original reporting by IDG News Service.