EU takes Germany to court over high nitrate levels

The Commission has denounced Germany for its excessive fertiliser use and insufficient moratoriums on its spreading. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission is taking Germany to court because of high nitrate levels that have been detected in its water, filing an “unusually sharp” case against the member state. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) today (7 November) confirmed that a suit had been filed late last month against Germany. The Commission is accusing Berlin of not implementing strict enough measures against nitrate contamination over the past few years, especially when it comes to manure spreading and use of fertiliser in agriculture.

The executive also alleges that Berlin has ignored the Nitrates Directive of 1991. Broadcaster WDR reported that the lawsuit is over 1,500 pages long and written “in an unusually sharp tone”.

According to the Commission, groundwater and surface water, including the Baltic Sea, are increasingly polluted with nitrates. In light of no improvement, the executive has as a result decided to file the lawsuit, within the framework of its infringement procedures.

Paris convinces Brussels of good intentions on nitrate pollution

The European Commission has approved France’s new action plan against nitrate pollution. But there is no guarantee it will improve the quality of surface or groundwater. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

The ECJ replied to a request from AFP that a case had been filed with the Luxembourg court on 27 October. The Commission has asked for a declaratory judgement and as such no sanctions will be imposed at first. If Germany does not respond, then a second judgement with punitive measures could be on the cards.

WDR also alleged that Brussels strongly criticised that considerably more fertiliser is applied to German fields than is strictly necessary, as crops cannot process all of it. The suit also criticises Germany’s three month moratoriums when manure spreading is not permitted; experts maintain, and the Commission agrees, that the break should be between five and seven months.

However, an October report produced by the German environment ministry and federal environmental agency on the state of the country’s water concluded that 96% of groundwater is in a “good quantitative state” and 64% is in a “good chemical state”. Where the chemical status is evaluated as being “poor”, high nitrate concentrations are detected.

The environment ministry said today that the government would decide in the coming days how best to respond to Brussels, ahead of the end of December deadline for responding to the lawsuit.

Rome sets sights on complete revision of nitrates legislation

Following the European Commission’s termination of an infringement procedure against the member state, Italy has updated its rules relating to the use of animal waste in agriculture and still retains hopes of amending the EU’s Nitrates Directive. EURACTIV Italy reports.

The ministry cited the country’s planned ordinance on fertiliser, which is intended to improve water quality, and which was pushed through by Germany’s ruling coalition in mid-October.

The agriculture ministry emphasised that the goal is to strike a balance “between environmental interests and practical solutions for farmers”. The responsible minister, Christian Schmidt (CSU), called on all parties involved to adopt the “timely and common” regulation.

SPD agriculture spokesperson Wilhelm Priesmeier told WDR, however, that these amendments could “not be enough” to make a difference to contamination levels.

France was taken to court in 2014 by the Commission, also for breaching the rules of the Nitrates Directive, where it successfully argued its case against the member state.

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