EU acts on nitrates, reporting infringements

Commission announces further legal actions following latest infringement meeting

A majority of EU member states face new or further legal action for non-compliance with Union environmental legislation, the European Commission has announced in a series of statements made following a quarterly "infringement" meeting two weeks ago. Eleven countries are named, the majority for failing to comply with EU law on controlling pollution by nitrates and on reporting their implementation of EU environmental laws to the Commission.

Five countries are accused of non-compliance with the 1991 EU nitrates directive, which seeks to reduce water pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources and to prevent future nitrate pollution. In the most serious case, the Commission is to apply to the European Court of Justice against Spain. Finland, France, Portugal and the UK are each to be sent "reasoned opinions," the final warning before an application to the court.

The Commission alleges that all five countries have failed to draw up action programmes to deal with the risk of nitrate pollution in designated vulnerable areas. In addition, Finland has failed to identify any polluted waters or designate vulnerable zones, while the UK has also failed to complete its designations and has only considered water abstraction points when identifying vulnerable zones rather than all waters. Spain has also failed to submit an implementation report on the directive.

Meanwhile, eight countries are to be sent "formal notices," the first warning before an application to the court, relating to a 1991 directive setting standardised requirements for EU countries to report their progress in complying with EU environmental laws.

Belgium, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain are being targeted by the Commission as part of a "concerted action" to improve compliance with the directive. The reporting directive requires EU member states to complete questionnaires on their compliance with directives grouped into the three sectors of water, air and waste. The present proceedings concern the questionnaire on water-related directives, according to Commission officials, who also explain that this is the first time infringements have been launched over the reporting directive.

In separate statements, the Commission says it will send reasoned opinions to Portugal related to three EU environmental directives and one to the UK over the 1994 packaging waste directive.

Portugal has failed to comply with the 1990 directive on access to environmental information as well as two directives passed in 1990 controlling the deliberate release and contained use of genetically modified organisms. The Commission points to deficiencies in the UK's implementation of the packaging waste directive. In particular, it says, there are no transposing measures for two articles of the directive (9 and 11) and as yet no legislation covering Northern Ireland.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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