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Brussels, 21 March 2007

Commission decides to take deferred legal action against France for nitrate pollution of surface water in Brittany

The European Commission has decided to bring a second action against France before the European Court of Justice for nitrate pollution of sources of drinking water in Brittany. France has failed to comply with a 2001 Court of Justice judgment for infringement of the Community rules on the quality of drinking water accessible to the public. The Commission proposes to ask the Court to impose on France a lump-sum fine of over €28 million and a daily penalty payment of €117 882. Because France has announced that it is drawing up major additional measures, however, the Commission proposes to defer this legal action in order to facilitate dialogue with the French authorities and to examine the content of the measures in detail.

Stavros Dimas, Commissioner responsible for the environment: "The persistently high concentrations of nitrates in 11 rivers in Brittany have led the Commission to refer the matter to the Court. However, by proposing a deferral the Commission has taken into account the encouraging initiatives recently announced by the French authorities aimed at speeding up the necessary decontamination. We expect to have a dialogue as soon as possible on the details of, and procedures for, these initiatives."

In 2001 the Court of Justice of the European Communities ruled that France had failed to fulfil its obligations under a 1975 Directive on protecting surface water intended for the abstraction of drinking water from pollution.[1] Under that Directive, the surface water in question must not contain a concentration of nitrates exceeding 50 mg/l. Member States were required to take the measures necessary to comply with that Community standard by June 1987.

The Court stated that 37 rivers in Brittany contained concentrations exceeding 50 mg/l. France has since implemented a number of measures, including agri-environmental measures aimed at reducing the quantity of nitrogen spread on farmland. However, those measures have so far proved insufficient for 11 rivers. The Commission has therefore decided to bring a legal action for non-compliance with the Court’s judgment. However, because the French authorities have recently announced that they are in the process of drawing up major additional measures the Commission has decided to defer this legal action in order to give the French authorities the opportunity to provide it with further details.

[1] Council Directive 75/440/EEC of 16 June 1975.

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