Portugal condemned over EU water pollution law

European Court rules on 1976 dangerous substances directive; France, UK, also in the dock

Portugal's water pollution prevention laws are inadequate, the European Court of Justice said today. Ruling in a case brought by the European Commission on the implementation of the 1976 dangerous substances in water directive, the Luxembourg court said pollution reduction programmes adopted by Portugal "say nothing about content, objectives or duration".

Under the law, Portugal should have implemented the pollution reduction programmes when it joined the EU in 1986. The Commission said it had received letters with details of the measures taken over a period of several years, but that none had provided more than "haphazard" controls on the priority substances listed in the directive. Its main criticism was that Portugal's programmes were based on river drainage areas rather than by a substance-by-substance strategy, which the directive requires.

The court said it could only judge on programmes developed by Portugal up to 1993 for procedural reasons, and upheld the Commission's complaints. But it added that the Portuguese government had admitted during the proceedings that even now its laws would fall short of the directive's requirements.

* In a second case, a European Court advocate general yesterday said that France should be condemned for failing to transpose a 1997 directive limiting gaseous emissions from non-road mobile machinery. In most cases the full court follows its advisors' recommendation, known as an opinion.

* Also yesterday, another European Court advocate general recommended condemnation of the UK for failing to comply with the 1991 directive on nitrate pollution from agriculture. When the case was launched, the UK had not correctly identified all waters at risk of nitrate pollution, drawn up a full list of nitrate vulnerable zones or established action programmes for avoiding nitrate pollution in vulnerable zones. The government has introduced several measures since then, though the court could not take account of these. Nevertheless, full compliance has still not been achieved.

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031. See also the judgement in case C-261/98, and the opinions in cases C-320/99 and C-69/99 here.

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