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IP/06/470

Brussels, 06 April 2006

Bathing water: Commission starts legal action against eleven Member states

The European Commission has sent a first written warning to eleven Member States which have been removing bathing sites from their official lists and thereby avoiding to apply EU rules aimed at protecting the health of bathers. The Member States in question are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. About 7,000 bathing sites in total have been affected. Removal of bathing sites from the official lists should be properly and individually explained and should not be a response to pollution problems. Explanations from the eleven Member States are currently lacking, and the Commission has therefore asked them to justify their ‘cancellation’ of previously recognised bathing sites.

Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The EU Bathing Water Directive is helping to ensure that millions of bathers can enjoy clean bathing water during the summer months. That is why I am concerned that some Member States do no longer apply the safeguard measures of the Directive to several thousand bathing waters across the EU. Failing to clean up the polluted bathing sites is both against the letter and the spirit of the Directive."

From the annual bathing water reports submitted by Member States under the EU’s Bathing Water Directive[1], the Commission has observed that, between the early 1990s and 2004, many previously recognised bathing waters were dropped without explanation from the list of monitored bathing areas. The statistics are set out in the table below. The Directive requires Member States to monitor bathing water quality and keep bathing waters free of pollution. The Commission is concerned that some Member States have opted to close bathing sites instead of cleaning them up.

The European Court of Justice has established that so-called de-recognition or de-listing of bathing sites must be properly explained and justified - and should not be a response to water pollution[2].

For this reason, the Commission has sent a first warning letter to Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal , Spain and Sweden, asking them to reinstate the bathing waters in question or provide a satisfactory explanation for their deletion.

The Commission has also raised issues about the lack of monitoring of certain bathing waters in Italy, which, although still recognised as bathing waters, are subject to bathing prohibitions. Italy has failed to monitor water quality at 244 sites, where bathing was banned during the year 2004.
Percentages and number of de-listed bathing waters up to 2004 for freshwaters and coastal waters

FRESHWATER
BE
DK
FI
FR
DE
EL
IT
NL
PT
ES
SE
Period (years)
91-04
92-04
96-04
92-04
92-04
91-04
91-04
91-04
94-04
91-04
96-04
Total no.*
129
138
419
2728
2645
6
990
989
89
535
770
De-listed no.
57
27
134
1322
1084
2
211
439
16
365
358
De-listed %
44.18
19.57
31.98
48.46
40.98
33.33
21.31
44.39
17.98
68.22
46.49


COASTAL
DK
FI
FR
DE
EL
IT
NL
PT
ES
SE
Period (years)
92-04
96-04
92-04
92-04
91-04
91-04
91-04
92-04
91-04
96-04
Total no.*
1390
140
2255
714
2168
5931
134
441
2136
543
De-listed no.
252
37
383
324
203
1047
52
41
310
161
De-listed %
18.13
26.43
16.98
45.38
9.36
17.65
38.81
9.3
14.51
29.65


*Total number = listed for 2004 bathing season + all de-listed in indicated period

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.
More information about the Bathing Water Directive is available at

http://europa.eu/water/water-bathing/index_en.html
For current statistics on infringements in general see:

http://ec.europa.eu/secretariat_general/sgb/droit_com/index_en.htm#infractions


[1] Directive 76/160/EEC concerning the quality of bathing water

[2] Case C-307/98, Commission v Belgium of May 2000


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