EU Parliament "shocked" by nitrate law delays

Governments blamed for failure to implement EU law, criticism of farmers voted down

The European Parliament has slammed EU governments for widespread failure to implement a 1991 directive to reduce nitrate pollution from farms. In a resolution passed yesterday, MEPs said they were "shocked by the lack of progress" and called for action from governments, the European Commission and farmers.

Parliamentary rapporteur, Irish Green MEP Patricia McKenna, said national governments had bowed too much to pressure from the farming lobby, and also criticised the Commission for being too slow in bringing legal action against member states.

But the Parliament itself showed it did not want to upset the agriculture lobby by voting to delete a clause in the draft resolution which would have called for EU farm subsidies to be withheld from farmers who did not respect a code of good agricultural practice.

Ms McKenna told ENDS Daily that she had not expected the assembly to endorse that particular clause and that the withholding of subsidies would be considered far too radical by other EU institutions. "If the Commission has not taken infringement proceedings against member states, they are hardly likely to take away subsidies," she said.

UK Conservative MEP James Provan, speaking on behalf of the Parliamentary agriculture committee, said the Commission should look at why countries had found it hard to implement the directive and said it should be less "authoritarian". Liam Hyland MEP, a member of the Union for Europe grouping, defended farmers and said that they should be given compensation for the costs involved in reducing nitrate pollution. This idea was not included in Parliament's resolution.

Among the recommendations passed by Parliament are that maximum livestock stocking rates be reduced and that energy production from small-scale biogas plants be promoted as a useful way of disposing of animal waste. The resolution also calls on the Commission to produce a communication listing solutions to nitrate pollution and to publish an annual report on the implementation of the nitrates directive.

Addressing the Parliament, EU commissioner Neil Kinnock denied that the Commission had been slow to act, saying that it had begun legal proceedings against 13 member states and would continue to press them for action. He said he supported the Parliament's idea of an annual report.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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