European Court fines Greece for late implementation Nitrates Directive

Fertilizers used in agriculture can cause water pollution with nitrates.

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Greece has to pay a lump sum of 3.5 million euros for late implementation of the Nitrates Directive. Due to this a lack of protection against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources continued to exist. In a judgment of 2015 the court found for the first time Greece failed to fulfil its obligations. Five years later on the 27th of February 2020 the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg fined the Member State.

According to the European Court of Justice Greece has a number of vulnerable zones – including those of the Plain of Thessaly and of the river Evros. In these zones bodies of surface water and groundwater are affected by concentrations of nitrates above 50 milligrams per litre and/or by the phenomenon of eutrophication. Greece failed to establish action programmes against nitrate pollution within one year after the designation of those zones.  

No action after first judgment

Greece had infringed the directive concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. When the European Commission observed that the requirements of the judgment were still not met after the judgment of 2015, they went to the European Court again in April 2019  in order to request Greece to pay a penalty payment and a lump sum.

Measures

After this Greece adopted an interministerial decree on 24 April 2019 in which they took all the measures necessary to comply with the judgment. The European Commission observed that Greece had done this and decided to pursue its action only so far as concerns the request for payment of a lump sum. In today’s judgment, the Court declares that Greece failed to fulfil its obligation to comply with the judgment of 2015 since, on the expiry of the period set by the Commission (5 December 2017), it had not adopted the measures necessary for compliance with that judgment.

Implementation started too late

Those measures were not taken until after the adoption of the interministerial decree, which entered into force on 3 May 2019, that is to say, well after the period set had expired. The European Court then observes that, as no action programme envisaged by the directive was adopted within the prescribed period, an order that Greece pay a lump sum is justified.

Ability to pay

The new judgement also takes into consideration Greece’s ability to pay. The Court takes account of recent trends in its gross domestic product. For all those reasons, the Court considers it appropriate, in the light of the risk that this failure to fulfil obligations represents for the environment and human health, to order Greece to pay a lump sum of 3.5 million euros in order to effectively prevent repetition in the future of similar infringements of EU law.

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