Case C-221/03 Commission v Belgium: Belgium found to be in breach of Nitrates Directive

Advocate General Geelhoed for the European Court of Justice has recommended that Belgium be condemned for comprehensively failing to comply with the Nitrates Directive (Directive 91/676/EEC).

The Advocate General delivered his Opinion in the case of European Commission v Belgium on 3 March 2005.
The Nitrates Directive imposes three types of obligations on Member States . to define waters affected by pollution or likely to be affected by pollution, to identify vulnerable zones which feed into such waters, and to establish action plans in order to address pollution by nitrates coming from agricultural sources following the development of voluntary codes of good agricultural practice.

The Nitrates Directive was to be transposed by Member States at the latest by 20 December 2003. The Commission, after having issued a reasoned opinion to the Kingdom of Belgium, raised proceedings on 22 May 2003 alleging that within the Flemish Region, Belgium had failed to adopt the laws, regulations or administrative provisions and to take the measures necessary fully to transpose and implement Articles 3(1) and (2), 4, 5 and 10 of Directive 91/676/EEC and within the Walloon Region, Belgium has failed to adopt the laws, regulations or administrative provisions and to take the measures necessary fully to transpose and implement Articles 3(1) and (2) and 5 of Directive 91/676/EEC.

As well as agreeing with the above points the Opinion of the Advocate General highlights that while the Belgium government has developed action plans at the local level since 1996, these are inadequate, having only partial application to vulnerable zones. Also, while the national decree on manures was subsequently amended this did not fall within the timescales provided by the reasoned opinion and therefore the Code of Good Agricultural Practice written by the Flemish region was also found to be lacking.

Whether Belgium will be pulled up for the above breaches of European law will depend on the judgement of the European Court of Justice and whether they do indeed follow the recommendation of the Advocate General. The Opinion of the Advocate General is available in a number of European languages and should shortly be available in English through the following link: www.curia.eu.int/en/content/juris/index_form.html


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