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Spain: Commission pursues legal action over infringements of EU environmental legislation

Commission Européenne - IP/06/1761   12/12/2006

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IP/06/1761

Brussels, 12 December 2006

Spain: Commission pursues legal action over infringements of EU environmental legislation

The European Commission has decided to pursue legal action against Spain in six separate cases over breaches of EU laws to protect the environment and public health. In four of these cases, the Commission is following up earlier rulings by the European Court of Justice. It is sending Spain a final written warning for failing to comply fully with a ruling requiring measures to reduce pollution in its coastal waters. Spain will receive first written warnings for failing to comply with rulings in three other cases, concerning urban waste water treatment, pollution of shellfish waters, and environmental impact assessments. In another case, the Commission is taking Spain to the Court for failing to properly transpose into national law an EU directive aimed at curbing industrial pollution, the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive. Finally, the Commission will send Spain a first written warning for failing to properly transpose the EU directive on drinking water.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "European citizens are entitled to a healthy environment and to be protected against environmental threats to public health. These laws must be implemented in a proper and timely manner if they are to have the desired effects."

Water pollution

Spain is to receive a final written warning over its failure to comply fully with a 1998 European Court of Justice judgement[1] which found it had violated the EU directive on discharges of dangerous substances into water.[2] Under the directive, Member States are required, among other things, to draw up programmes to reduce pollution of their coastal waters. Spain has taken some measures to comply but these do not address all outstanding issues, especially those concerning pollution of coastal waters. Spain will face renewed Court action and the possibility of fines if it does not comply rapidly.

Nitrate vulnerable zones and urban waste water treatment

The Commission is sending a first written warning that Spain should promptly comply with a Court judgement from last year[3] which found Spain had not properly applied the EU directives on nitrate pollution of water[4] and urban waste water treatment[5].

The Court ruled that the area Rambla de Mojácar in Almería, should be designated as a zone vulnerable to nitrate pollution and that the municipality of Vera should provide strict waste water treatment in line with EU law. To date the Commission has received no information that this has been fully done.

Pollution of shellfish waters

Spain will also receive a first written warning for failing to comply with a 2005 Court ruling[6] which found that it violated the EU directive on shellfish water quality[7]. The Court ruled that Spain had failed to adopt a pollution reduction programme for the shellfish waters of the Ría de Vigo. The Commission has still not received any information that the Spanish authorities have adopted such a pollution reduction programme.

Environmental impact assessment

In the final case where the Commission is following up earlier rulings, a first written warning is to be sent following a Court ruling[8] earlier this year which found that Spain had breached the EU directive on environmental impact assessments (EIA)[9] The directive requires Member States to carry out environmental impact assessments before authorising certain public and private projects likely to have a significant impact on the environment. A leisure park near Valencia was built in 2001 without an assessment of its environmental impact. In May 2006 Spain provided assurances that a technical study of the park's environmental impact would be carried out. So far the Commission has received no confirmation that the study has been done.

Industrial pollution: Spain taken to Court

The Commission is taking Spain to the Court for failing to properly transpose the EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC)[10] into national law. The directive is a key measure to reduce industrial pollution, requiring all major industrial installations to have an operating permit that looks at their overall environmental performance and sets limits on their emissions to air, discharges to water and generation of waste. It should have been implemented in 1999. A law adopted by Spain in July 2002 fails to address three important provisions of the Directive: the transition period for new installations, provisions for renewing permits and authorising existing installations.

Drinking water

Spain is to receive a first written warning for failing to properly transpose the EU directive on drinking water[11] into its national law. The directive sets health and purity requirements that drinking water supplied anywhere in the European Union must meet. Member States had until December 2000 to transpose the directive into national law. A Spanish law was only adopted in 2002, and the Commission finds that it does not cover all the requirements of the directive.

Legal Process

Article 226 of the Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations.

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law that warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "Letter of Formal Notice" (first written warning) to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "Reasoned Opinion" (final written warning) to the Member State. This clearly and definitively sets out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law, and calls upon the Member State to comply within a specified period, usually two months.

If the Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the Court of Justice. Where the Court of Justice finds that the Treaty has been infringed, the offending Member State is required to take the measures necessary to conform.

Article 228 of the Treaty gives the Commission power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous judgement of the European Court of Justice. The article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned.
For current statistics on infringements in general see:

http://ec.europa.eu/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm#infractions
For rulings by the European Court of Justice see:

http://curia.europa.eu/en/content/juris/index.htm


[1] Case C-214/96.

[2] Directive 76/464/EEC.

[3] Case C-416/02.
[4] Directive 91/676/EEC.
[5] Directive 91/271/EEC.
[6] Case C-26/04.
[7] Directive 79/923/EEC.
[8] Case C-332/04.

[9] Directive 85/337/EEC , amended by Directive 97/11/EC.

[10] Directive 96/61/EC.

[11] Directive 98/83/EC.


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