The announcement means that all but two EU member states are deemed, by the EC, to have infringed on the Nitrates Directive, which is designed to protect water quality from fertiliser run-off.

“It is always a very long process with agriculture, except when they want money,” an EC official told edie. The official acknowledged that compliance with the Nitrates Directive is proving a painstaking process, but said that the EC had expected it to be this way.

Northern EU countries were quicker to transpose the directive into national legislation than Southern countries, but action on the ground has often been inadequate. In the south, many EU countries took the view that the Nitrates Directive wasn’t a priority because their agricultural industries use less fertiliser than their Northern counterparts. “Southern member states ignored the directive for five years,” says the EC official.

While enforcement action against all but two EU states will continue, the EC hopes that reform of the Common Agricultural Plan (CAP) will also drive compliance. “I think reform of CAP will help because we’re trying to have the new rural development plans include eco-compliance,” says the official, who expects that as CAP changes there will be conditions placed on farmers receiving aid. One of the conditions for aid will be meeting the basic requirements of the Nitrates Directive.

In this latest round of Nitrates Directive enforcement (see related story), Luxembourg will be taken to court by the EC while Finland and Portugal are both receiving first warnings. The UK receives a second warning relating specifically to its failure to designate the Ythan estuary in Scotland as a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. The EC says that the UK’s implementation of the Nitrates Directive (see related story) is, in many cases, too limited, with Nitrate Vulnerable Zones being kept deliberately small instead of extending to cover whole watersheds.

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