EU Commission goes to Court over nitrates law

Greece faces judgement; Austria, Luxembourg, to be warned again over water pollution

The European Commission is taking further action against Greece, Austria and Luxembourg for their failure to fully comply with the 1991 nitrate pollution directive.

Greece has failed to adopt good agricultural practices, to monitor fresh water sufficiently or to adopt an action programme as required by the directive, the Commission complains. However, it accepts that some improvements have been made, such as the designation of four "nitrate vulnerable zones"

Austria and Luxembourg will receive supplementary reasoned opinions, or final warnings before court action can begin. Austria introduced a revised water law in 1999 but the Commission says it is "rather vague and unclear" especially in the areas of who is to comply and what their duties are. Luxembourg's action programme is deficient, especially when it comes to where and when fertilisers can be spread and monitoring of waters.

The nitrates directive, which required formal compliance by December 1993, is designed to reduce or prevent water pollution from nitrates from the use of organic and inorganic fertilisers in agriculture. Excessive nitrates are detrimental in drinking water and in surface waters, where they cause ecological damage and algal blooms by using up the stored oxygen.

There have been widespread gaps in the implementation of the nitrates directive. In today's announcement, the Commission underlined that infringement proceedings are currently open against 12 member states for non-compliance.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. A press release dated 13/1/00 (IP/00/30) is posted on Rapid.

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