Commission questions the legality of Sivens dam

[Pierre-Selim/Flickr httpbit.ly11YVHKX]

A demonstration against the Sivens dam project. Toulouse, November 2014. [Pierre-Selim/Flickr httpbit.ly11YVHKX]

The Commission has opened an infringement proceeding against France for non-compliance with European directives, as well as misuse of European structural funds in its Sivens dam project. Environmentalists have welcomed the decision to take action against what they see as a useless and environmentally harmful project. EURACTIV France reports

The European Commission announced the opening of an infringement proceeding against France over the Sivens dam project on 26 November, stating concerns over the possible non-respect of the Water Framework Directive on the site of the dam. The Commission had confirmed that it was investigating the project on 19 November.

Enrico Brivio, the Commission’s spokesperson for the environment, said that the European executive had “sent France a letter of formal notice” for violating the Water Framework Directive in its handling of the Sivens dam project. Opponents of the dam say it will lead to a decline in the quality of both ground and surface water.

>> Read: Brussels to scrutinise French Sivens dam project

The Water Directive was designed to promote the sustainable use of water and to prevent pollution.

The letter of formal notice is just the first step in the proceeding. Paris now has two months to respond, and the Commission will then deliver its reasoned opinion if it finds France’s explanations insufficient. The final stage of the Commission proceeding, if the project is not modified within a further two months, is to refer France to the European Court of Justice.

Under article 258 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union article, the Commission can launch an infringement proceeding, sanctioning member states for failing to conform to the Union’s common standards.

Water quality at risk

“In this case, the infringement proceeding has been opened, because […] the French authorities authorised the project in question despite the risk it posed to water quality,” the spokesperson said.

>> Read: Europe threatened by greater water risks: OECD report

The Commission believes that France can still make the changes necessary for the project to go ahead. Michèle Rivasi, a French Green MEP, said that France should “modify the project by offsetting the damage it would cause to the wetlands, as the law states”.

Inappropriate use of European funds?

Michèle Rivasi believes the Commission’s decision to open an infringement proceeding is “a very good thing, because it proves that there are checks on European funding, while France disregards the European directives it ratifies and asks for subsidies from the EU”. “It shows that we can no longer get away with doing whatever we want,” she added.

The Sivens dam project, which will cost 8.4 million euro, is subsidised by the European Union to the tune of 2.5 million euros.

Environmentalists have been battling local politicians over the Sivens dam for years, and the death of a 21 year-old demonstrator in a clash with police in October led to the suspension of the project.

The MEP expressed her surprise that the National Front opposed the European Union on the issue, “whilst claiming to defend water quality”.

Steeve Briois, a National Front MEP, asked the French government to “refuse to bow to pressure from the European Commission to abandon the project”, saying that only the French state should have the power to decide whether or not to continue with the construction of the Sivens dam. 

The proposed dam in Sivens, France, will contain 1.5 million cubic metres of water over an area of 48 hectares. Ecologists and the Tarn General Council have been at loggerheads over the plans for years. The dispute reached a national level in September when the Minister for Ecology, Ségolène Royal, launched the first expert mission to the area.

The death of Rémi Fraisse on 26 October, killed by a police grenade during a demonstration at the site of the dam, has added yet more bitterness to the dispute. 

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