Belgium faces bathing water condemnation

European Court advisor says Wallonian inland bathing sites should not have been delisted

Belgium is one step away from being condemned by the European Court of Justice for failure to comply with an EU environmental law after a court advisor today supported attempts by the European Commission to seek a judgement against it (ENDS Daily 7 January 1998). The full court is not obliged to follow opinions of advocates general, but usually does so.

According to Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, Belgium is in breach of the 1976 bathing waters directive, which obliges member states to draw up a list of bathing waters and ensure they meet a range of water quality standards. The directive is among the worst implemented of all EU environmental laws and only three countries - Ireland, Greece and Austria - have escaped Commission legal action. Germany was the most recent EU member to be condemned by the European Court of Justice (ENDS Daily 8 June).

The advocate general said Belgium had been wrong to declassify a number of inland bathing waters in the Wallonia region that failed to meet the quality standards, especially since local tourist brochures subsequently advertised more bathing areas than were notified under the directive.

In reaching this conclusion, he rejected four reasons cited by Belgium for delisting the waters: that they were not deep enough, they were not frequented by many people, that they were used for canoeing, and that climatic conditions made them unattractive.

He said that shallow waters were liable to attract the very young and very old, that unpopular waters may have become less favoured by bathers precisely because they had become more polluted, that canoeists did not deter swimmers and that the climatic conditions had not prevented neighbouring bathing waters from being retained on the list. On two other points, the advocate general rejected a Commission argument that Belgium had failed to invest properly to improve water quality, but upheld its accusation that the bathing water standards had not been reached. In 1996, Belgium's compliance rate was 85.5% compared with the required rate of 95%.

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031. References: The full text of the opinion can be found on the court's web site under "recent case law," case reference: C-307/98

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