Spain fails to protect bathers - and shellfish - from pollution

Waters off a number of beaches on the Galician coast have been ruled to be unacceptably polluted for both swimmers and edible shellfish.

Case C-26/04, Commission v Spain

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave judgement in the case of Commission v Spain (Case C-26/04) on 15 December 2005. The case concerned alleged breaches by Spain of the Bathing Waters Directive (Directive 76/160/EEC) and the Shellfish Waters Directive (Directive 79/923/EEC).

In its judgement the Court held that, by failing to adopt a pollution reduction programme for the shellfish waters of the Ria de Vigo, Spain had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 5 of the Shellfish Waters Directive.

While Spain tried to argue that the Directive did not apply to the waters of the Ria de Vigo as the scope of the Directive was limited to waters where shellfish which are 'directly edible by man' live, this argument was dismissed by the Court.

Article 1 of the Directive provides that the Directive applies to all coastal and brackish waters designated by the Member States as needing protection or improvement in order to support shellfish life and growth and 'and thus to contribute to the high quality of shellfish products directly edible by man'.

The Court therefore found that the Directive applies to all shellfish waters, whether the shellfish living in them are intended for direct human consumption or for consumption after treatment.

The remainder of the action in respect of the allegations concerning breaches of the Bathing Waters Directive, was dismissed by the Court.

While the Commission alleged that Spain had failed to fulfil its obligations under the Bathing Waters Directive, by failing to officially designate the beaches of 'Vilela/A Videira', 'Nino do Corvo' and 'Canabal' on the Galician coast, the Court agreed with the Opinion of the Advocate General and held that Article 4(1) of the Bathing Waters Directive does not impose on Member States the obligation to officially designate bathing areas.

This part of the Commission's claim was therefore dismissed.

The full text of the judgement is available in English here.

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