EU takes action over EU water law compliance

Italy, Portugal, Finland, Luxembourg, Ireland cited on nitrates pollution, reporting

The European Commission has announced legal action against Italy and Portugal for failing to comply with the EU's 1991 directive on water pollution by nitrates. In the case of Italy, the Commission has made an application to the European Court of Justice alleging failure to establish programmes to combat high levels of nitrates in water in "vulnerable zones," plus failure to correctly monitor water quality and to report its implementation to the Commission.

The final batch of announcements following Commissioners' quarterly EU law infringements meeting held last week also includes a reasoned opinion, or final warning, to be sent to Portugal. According to the Commission, Portugal has failed to take account of marine areas in its rules for identifying zones vulnerable to nitrate pollution. The Commission stresses that nitrates from agricultural sources are an important factor in coastal as well as inland water pollution.

A Commission official told ENDS Daily that the nitrates directive was one of the worst implemented pieces of EU environmental law. Infringement proceedings were being pursued against 13 of the EU's 15 member states for infractions of the directive, the official said.

One year ago, EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard described the situation as "totally unacceptable" (ENDS Daily 3 October 1997). The official said that strong farming lobbies and a conflict of interest between national environmental and agricultural regulatory bodies were among the reasons that EU member states had found it so difficult to apply the directive.

In two other cases announced today, Luxembourg and Ireland will both receive final warnings for not respecting the so-called "reporting directive" of 1991, which standardises the way member states have to report their implementation of EU environment law to the Commission. The warnings relate to the implementation of water directives which should have been reported by the end of September 1996.

The Commission also announced today that it would open court proceedings against Finland for failing to implement the 1992 habitats directive in the autonomous province of Åland. It noted that Finland had now apparently taken appropriate steps to comply with the directive, but said that it had not as yet been officially notified.

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

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