Spain condemned again over nitrate pollution

European Court also rules against Greece on packaging, Belgium facing sanction over incineration

The European Court of Justice condemned Spain today over its failure to comply with the EU's nitrates directive, which attempts to combat pollution from agricultural sources. The ruling marks the second time that Spain has been censured over the 1991 law, the first being in October 1998 (ENDS Daily 2 October 1998). It has also been released several months earlier than expected.

In its judgement, the court endorsed an earlier opinion by one of its advisors which said Spain had failed to adopt an action programme of measures against pollution in "nitrate vulnerable zones" within two years of designating the zones (ENDS Daily 21 January). Spain's failure to designate the zones on time had led to the previous judgement against it.

The nitrates directive is one of the least well-observed of the EU's environmental laws, with a further eight countries facing court judgements and only two not subject to infringement proceedings by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 5 April). When a member state is condemned a second time over a failure to apply EU law the court has the power to impose punitive fines. In Spain's case, however, the second judgement refers to a different requirement in the directive, leaving the country still on its "first chance".

Meanwhile, in a second judgement today, the Court ruled that Greece had failed to comply with the 1994 packaging and packaging waste directive. In a straightforward case the European Commission said Greece had not sent it proof that the directive had been written into national law (ENDS Daily 3 July 1998). In such "non-transposition" actions, the Commission does not investigate whether the substance of the directive is being implemented.

Also today, advocate general Philippe Léger recommended that the court condemn Belgium for its failure to comply with the 1994 hazardous incineration directive (ENDS Daily 19 December 1997). The advisor, whose opinion guides but does not bind the full court, said two of the country's regions - Flanders and Brussels - had transposed the directive, but that the third - Wallonia - had not.

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031. The texts of the judgements in cases C-274/98 and C-123/99 and the advocate general's opinion in case C-338/99 can be found here.

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