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Brussels, 24 June 2010

Drinking water: Commission welcomes French compliance with EU rules on nitrate pollution in Brittany

The European Commission has welcomed measures taken by France to comply with its obligations under EU rules as regards nitrate pollution of sources of drinking water in Brittany, and has closed its infringement case. France was condemned by the European Court of Justice in 2001 for breaching EU rules on the quality of surface water used to produce drinking water. A second referral to the ECJ was suspended in 2007 after France adopted an action plan to ensure compliance with nitrate concentration limits. France is now implementing the action plan. The Commission will continue to monitor compliance in the area.

The European Court of Justice ruled in March 2001 that France had breached the Surface Water Directive(75/440/EEC) on the protection of water used or intended to be used for producing drinking water. The judgment was made on the grounds that 37 water abstraction points located in Brittany were affected by nitrate concentrations above the EU water quality standard of 50 mg/l.

In 2007, the Commission decided to refer the matter to the Court for a second time with the possibility of substantial fines. However, the Commission suspended the second referral to the Court after the French authorities adopted a detailed action plan to ensure compliance. This included the closure of four water abstraction points, a 30% average reduction in the quantity of fertilisers spread over land in the relevant catchment areas, and the annual monitoring of nearby farms.

France has been implementing the action plan and has achieved a high level of compliance, since only three drinking water sources had nitrate concentrations slightly above 50 mg/l by the end of 2009. In addition, data on nitrate concentrations covering the January-April 2010 period show full compliance for these three water abstraction points.

The Commission has concluded that it would not be justified in pursuing the case further. It will nevertheless continue monitoring the situation closely in the light of data on nitrate concentrations that France will provide on a regular basis.

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

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