European Court fines Spain for lack of Waste Water Treatment

In 43 agglomerations in Spain waste water is discharged into the sea without treatment. Photo: Water News Europe.

Spain has to pay a lump sum of 12 million euro and a penalty payment of almost 11 million euro for every six-months they do not comply to the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. This decision was made by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg at the end of July 2018.

The judgement followed after Spain neglected a ruling from the European Court in 2011 also for failing the implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD). According to the UWTDD all European Member States have to ensure that all agglomerations with a population equivalent of over 15.000 are equipped with collection systems for urban waste water and they have to treat their waste water prior to discharge. The directive got into force on 31 December 2000.

Ten years later in 2010 the European Commission (EC) discovered a number of Spanish agglomerations who did not comply to the rules and they brought Spain to the Court of Justice. In 2011 the European Court declared that Spain had failed to fulfil its obligations under the directive since there was no collection and treatment of urban waste water in, respectively, 6 and 37 agglomerations with a population equivalent of over 15.000.

Penalty payments
Another seven years later, in 2017, the number of not complying agglomerations was still not diminished. The status of all WWTP’s in Europe can be seen on an interactive map published on the website of the European Environment Agency. Due to the breach of EU law the European Commission decided to put more pressure on Spain in order to motivate the country to fulfil its obligations. The EC requested the European Court to order Spain to pay a penalty payment of 171.217 euro for each day of delay and a lump sum of 19.303 for each day of delay from the date of delivery of the 2011 judgment until full compliance with that judgment.

Aggravating circumstance
The European Court stated in July the particularly long duration of the infringement constitutes an aggravating circumstance. According to the information submitted by Spain, the judgment will not be fully complied with before 2019, which amounts to a delay of 18 years compared to the deadline set by the directive. Furthermore, the Court points out that the internal legal and economic difficulties invoked by Spain to justify its delay in complying with the judgment are not capable of exempting it from its obligations under EU law. Consequently, the European Court considers it appropriate to order Spain to pay to the budget of the EU a lump sum of 12 million euro and a penalty payment of nearly 11 million euro per six-month period of delay in implementing all necessary measures to comply with the judgment of 2011. This penalty payment is payable from today until full compliance with the judgment of 2011.

Calculation of the fine
The Court states that the actual amount of the penalty payment must be calculated at the end of each six-month period by reducing the total amount relating to each of those periods by a percentage corresponding to the proportion that the number of population equivalents of the agglomerations whose urban waste water treatment and collection systems have been rendered compliant with the judgment in Commission versus Spain at the end of the period in question bears to the number of population equivalents of the agglomerations not having such systems on 25 July 2018, the date of the judgement.

Last year Water News Europe published an article on the poor waste water treatment situation in several European Member States.