Italy condemned over EU nitrates directive

Court finds five-year failure to designate zones vulnerable to agricultural nitrate pollution

Italy has failed to implement the 1991 nitrates directive more than five years after its main provisions came into force, the European Court of Justice ruled yesterday. In a case brought by the European Commission Italy was charged with having failed to submit to the Commission by December 1993 a list of designated "nitrate vulnerable zones," defined as territory draining into waters which are, or could be, affected by agricultural pollution. In its reply, Italy argued that several non-legislative measures already in place meant it complied with the directive "in all essentials," but acknowledged that it had not drawn up a list of designated areas. The Commission claimed this approach was "illogical," saying the measures would remain a "dead letter" as the zones they purported to protect did not exist. It also pointed out that Italy would have been exempt from the obligation of designation had it classed its entire territory as a vulnerable zone. Although Italy argued that it was in the process of sending the Commission details of action programmes to be implemented under the directive, the court judged that this was an implicit admission of it failure to do so before the deadline, and ruled accordingly. The nitrates directive is among the worst implemented of the EU's environmental laws. Legal actions are pending against a further eleven countries, a Commission spokesperson said today.

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