News in Brief: European Commission environmental enforcement action

The European Commission has begun the new century with a series of warnings and announcements of imminent court action relating to environmental legislation. Water quality in member states is most frequently at issue.


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European Commission takes Ireland to court over rural water quality

The decision to take Ireland to court over the Drinking Water Directive (DWD) has been made despite recent renewed efforts to improve rural water supplies. The EC has cited the country’s widespread non-compliance with total and faecal coliform parameters – two of the measurements used to determine drinking water quality.

New efforts to invest in infrastructure and to develop county water plans have been welcomed, but “many key measures are envisaged rather than actually in place”, according to the EC. The EC believes that protection of drinking water sources from septic tanks and agricultural activities should be a priority and the body praises the Irish annual drinking water reports for clearly stating the “extent and persistence of problems”. With regard to new Irish legislation designed to ensure DWD compliance, the EC states that it “does not properly reflect the binding character of the Directive’s standards”.

Greece, Austria and Luxembourg are the latest to infringe on Nitrates Directive

The European Commission will take Greece to court over its failure to “adopt good agricultural practices” and to implement a nitrates action programme. This, despite the country having recently designated four ‘nitrate vulnerable zones’. Meanwhile Austria and Luxembourg are both receiving last warnings before court applications are made. The EC contends that Austria’s nitrate action programme is “vague and unclear” and fails to spell out who must comply with the law. Luxembourg, allegedly, does not properly regulate when and where fertilisers can be applied and also fails to monitor sufficiently its water for nitrate levels. In announcing the nitrate-related enforcement action, the EC admits that EU-wide implementation of the directive has been patchy thus far.

Portugal risks second round in court over inadequate protection of surface water

The EC has warned Portugal that its failure to protect surface water destined for drinking supplies has not gone unnoticed. The problem was the subject of a 1998 European Court case and following the Court’s ruling against Portugal the country has not taken the action required – according to the EC. A second court case could result in a fine.

Ireland will be taken to court over Asbestos Directive

The EC has said it will take Ireland to court for failing to introduce adequate national legislation to comply with the EU’s Asbestos Directive. But all is not lost, according to the EC. Draft legislation, introduced by Irish authorities last year, would bring the country in line with the Directive. Adoption of the draft legislation may now become a priority.

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