Nitrates: Commission decides to refer Greece to the Court of Justice and asks for financial sanctions



In April 2015, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that Greece violated EU law by failing to protect its waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (C-149/14). Four years later, the problem is still not fully resolved. Therefore, the Commission is calling on the Court of Justice of the European Union to impose financial sanctions in the form of a lump sum of € 2,639.25 per day with a minimum lump sum of € 1,310,000 and a daily penalty payment of € 23.753,25 from the day of the first judgement until full compliance is reached or until the second Court judgment.

Under EU law on the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (the Nitrates Directive, Council Directive 91/676/EEC), Member States monitor their waters and identify those affected or likely to be affected by pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. They also designate areas of land that drain into these waters as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones and set up appropriate action programmes to prevent and reduce the pollution.

In 2011, Greece had not designated a number of areas as Nitrates Vulnerable Zones and had not established action programmes for these areas. As a result, by sending a letter of formal notice to the Greek authorities, the Commission opened infringement proceedings in October 2011. Since the Court ruling against Greece in April 2015, Greece has established 12 new Nitrate Vulnerable Zones; however, the Greek authorities have not established action programmes for these new zones.

As a result, the Commission further pursued proceedings by sending a letter of formal notice under Article 260(2) of TFEU in October 2017. In addition to the failure to establish such action programmes, Greece has not provided any calendar of compliance or target date. By failing to adopt these action programmes Greece has still not complied with the Court ruling of 24 April 2015 (in case C-149/14, Commission vs Greece).

Hence, the procedure to establish the action programmes remains at an initial stage. The Commission has, therefore, decided to refer the case back to the Court of Justice and ask the Court to impose financial sanctions.

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