Belgium, Greece, condemned over water

Governments failing to comply with EU directives on bathing water, dangerous substances

Belgium and Greece were condemned by the European Court of Justice yesterday in two separate cases relating to failures to comply with EU environmental laws concerning protection of water. Belgium had breached the 1976 bathing waters directive, the court said, while Greece had breached the directive on dangerous substances in water, also passed in 1976.

In the Belgian case, the European Commission had accused the government of failing to respect pollution limit values set in the bathing water directive and of unjustifiably excluding some water bodies from official lists of bathing waters. The Belgian government raised several objections to the claim, including that some of the waters were not deep enough for swimming and that climatic conditions were not suitable.

In its judgement, the court rejected Belgium's defences, noting, for example, that shallow waters might be particularly attractive to older people or children. It rejected only one complaint levelled by the Commission, arguing that nothing in the directive compelled member states to include provisions in implementing legislation obliging bans on swimming if pollution limit values were exceeded.

In the Greek case, the court ruled on a Commission complaint that the government had failed to establish programmes for reducing pollution by "grey list" substances, including quality objectives and implementation deadlines. It accepted that the government had taken a range of steps towards meeting this obligation, but ruled that they were "merely ad hoc measures and not comprehensive and coherent programmes for reducing pollution".

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031. See also the full judgements concerning Belgium, C-307/98 and Greece, C-384/97.

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